I Find Unique Thrift Stores Uniquely Sleazy

The Unique Thrift Store chain is a far cry from the cool store on Lincoln Avenue of my youth. After I graduated from high school a semester early, my mom and I would go on junking and photo documentary jaunts down Lincoln Avenue. Among my favorite places was a Unique Thrift store a few blocks north of Irving Park. It is there that I picked up this super neat, albeit still not terribly valuable old Kodak camera for a pittance.

 Fast forward many years to the 21st century. Like all chains, the stores certainly vary a bit in quality and selection, but overall I have to say that these are dirty, sleazy stores with some unsavory patrons and the requisite screaming, out-of-control kids. The store at 3748 N. Elston Avenue was really disgusting yesterday and the 50 percent off Super Bowl sale didn’t make anything more appealing.

While this establishment once boasted racks of bargains and the occasional antique, nowadays you will find mainly stained clothing, filthy shoes with worn-out soles, and hideous beat-up pots and pans. There are very few if any collectibles – I laughed when I saw a Dollar Tree lightweight resin knick knack tagged as a collectible at $3.99! The key word here is dollar folks – so why did you price this stunning piece of Americana Made in China at four times higher than original?

My mouth actually dropped open when I spotted hundreds of used undies and bras – I think this might be a health violation. Given the state of the floor, I hesitated to look at the crotches of these undies but finally summoned the courage. Yes indeed, some of these undies were used – gross. This is the only thrift store I know of that sells such cast-offs. On the bright side they had a couple of new packages of single ladies Jockey briefs (originally $18 3-packs) priced at $2.49 so with the discount they were a bargain at $1.25. These were hanging on pegs with used and new pantyhose from a bygone era and moth-eaten scarfs.

Here are a few  items that stood out from the other dreck:

  • Tacky sequined purse – $4.99
  • Aforementioned Dollar Tree resin birdhouse – $3.99
  • Used bras – $2.99-$6.99
  • Used undies – starting at a mere 99 cents
  • Battered widowed pan/pot lids – $1.99-$2.99
  • Disease-ridden Born and Ecco shoes – $5.69 and $4.49 respectively
  • Disgustingly stained, ripped Emu boots – $4.99
  • Worn-out black leather Fossil purse – $14.99
  • Freaky, Twilight Zonesque doll – priceless

All of the Unique Thrift stores have jewelry nicely displayed in locked cases but the prices at Elston were out-of-sight. Not one of the pieces I saw was vintage and some were ridiculously priced at $24.99. A few weeks ago I stopped at the Unique Thrift in West Rogers Park. This location was very cramped and the shoes were pathetic, but I do have to mention that there were a few collectibles and vintage pieces and I didn’t spot any used undies. I actually purchased a rosary for the reasonable price of $1.39. There were a lot of oddballs shopping there but nobody that outright scared me.

If you have to shop at a Unique in Chicago, my recommendation is the store at 4441 W. Diversey Avenue. I still kick myself for passing up a gorgeous pair of Frye boots that were priced at $19.99 but discounted by 25 percent. The model retails for more than $200 but I had just lost my job and was being rather frugal. These boots were a gem among a morass of mostly outdated and worn-out shoes.

My main reason for shopping at the Diversey location has sadly vanished – Jack’s Five and Dime, a last vestige of an old-fashioned dime store that was across the street. I bemoaned its demise, but wasn’t that surprised because the manager told me on my last visit in 2009 that she wasn’t sure they could survive much longer. It is a shame that nothing stays the same, but I’ll always have my memories of the way things were.


One Comment:

  1. I am so glad I found this article! I thought that my husband and I were the only ones who find Unique Thrift stores both morally and physically repugnant! We live in Cleveland, but your description, right down to the scary sleazy patrons, was uncannily similar to our Cleveland Unique stores! The prices anymore are laughable, and we have laughed at the same Dollar Tree items (marked Greenbrier Inc) priced three times what they were brand new!

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