I consider myself an eBay pioneer, with a seller account going back to the e-commerce Stone Age – or January 1997, to be precise. In the beginning, eBay was a fantastic place to sell genuine antiques with provenance and vintage collectibles like footless Pez. In the last decade or so, things have drastically changed as the massive marketplace has become flooded with fake designer purses, huge lots of genuine Gillette blades that fell off a truck (wink-wink), and countless other new merchandise. While vintage and antique merchandise still can sell, it is a spin of the roulette wheel compared to the early days – with more than 700 million items listed on any given day. I have experienced my share of non-paying bidders, kooks, and insults and so have family members – providing amusement and provoking more than a few f-bombs. I have often wondered if people are compulsive bidders in the same way others are compulsive gamblers. My faith in humanity was restored about 11 years ago when I heard from the sister of a buyer who never paid for an antique purse. I’ve heard every story in the book, but this one was heartwarming and true. The buyer had been hit by a car and was in intensive care for two months. She was slowly recovering, and finally cognizant enough to tell her sister about outstanding commitments. It astonished me that despite facing rehab and what had to be horrific hospital bills, she cared enough to tell her sister to pay off eBay sellers!
Back in March, when I ventured into my local Goodwill store, I was astonished to see a crappy, framed reproduction of some lesser Impressionist painter on very cheap, warped cardboard for $199.99. What made this even more egregious is that the back of this monstrosity still bore the $4.00 garage sale price tag – and even at that price, nobody wanted this piece of junk. This prompted the following letter sent to Goodwill Corporate. The name of the store manager has been removed to protect the innocent – but not sure if that is her or me! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 3/22/13 Letter My mouth is still agape from my visit today to this retail store: Goodwill Store & Donation Center 900 W. Algonquin Road Arlington Heights, IL 60005 (847) 870-7897 I have been frequenting this store since it opened and have noticed that the prices are going up constantly. The prices now are higher than at any antique store for pieces that aren’t worth more than a few dollars. I saw a cheap reproduction of a painting on crappy cardboard (framed) for $199.99. When I brought this to the attention of the floor manager, I mentioned that I have expertise in antiques and collectibles and they could sure use somebody with my expertise to price things more accurately. She said we don’t hire people with expertise to price items and my manager thought this was real. I replied, ” Well I understand you don’t hire people specifically to do that, but wouldn’t it be helpful to have somebody on board with that knowledge?” The fake painting was SO obviously cheaply printed on inexpensive paper and the garage sale price of $4.00 was still marked in very large letters on the back – $199.99 – good grief!!!!! Yes, I agree that Goodwill is…
Jeff and I really got our fill of auctions a month ago when we attended a Pace Auction in Des Plaines – arriving at 10:30 and staying the entire day until every last lot was sold around 4:00 pm. I have been going to Pace Auctions since 1987 when I attended an auction they were conducting for an antique store going out of business on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. I still have the pine dresser I purchased at that auction – it was a bit of a fixer upper but has served me well. Once upon a time, Pace held auctions every Monday night, but haven’t done so for years and now periodically have auctions on Saturdays. Jeff’s best Pace Auction tale goes back to 1999 when I took him to an auction and he purchased a huge lot of Star Trek Mego figures for just $45.00 and sold them for nearly $900.00 on eBay! When you are bidding, you have to factor in the 15 percent buyer’s premium and sales tax on top of the winning bid. An odd thing about auctions is that you have to be careful with gestures or the auctioneer will think you are bidding. Inevitably, my allergies kicked in around all that musty stuff and I started to itch. If I lifted my hand to scratch my head, it might be considered a bid, and I nearly did this a few times. This phenomenon has been parodied on a number of TV sitcoms over the years.
I have been meaning to write about this particular thrift store in Palatine for a long time. Sparrow’s Nest embodies what we detest about some so-called charity thrift stores – perhaps more than any other shop we have blogged about – GREED. Everything Jeff grouched about in the opening salvo on this subject (back in October 2011) can be found here and then some. As I look around the Palatine shop, I am left to ponder if there is gold hidden inside some pretty unremarkable, and often shabby merchandise – what else could justify these prices? The parent organization Home of the Sparrow, helps victims of domestic violence – in this case, homeless women and their children in McHenry County and Northern Illinois. That is a very commendable cause that would be better served by thrift stores with fairly priced merchandise. Home of the Sparrow runs five resale shops – in Algonquin, Cary, McHenry, Palatine, and Woodstock. While I have never been to the Algonquin, McHenry or Woodstock locations, I have to say that the Cary store is not nearly as guilty of price-gouging as the Palatine store.
As a lifelong antique collector and fine artist, I appreciate objects that once belonged to strangers. I fully embrace the concept of recycling on many levels – environmental, global, financial, practical – and aesthetically. I have frequented estate sales for many years – mining the sales for treasures that I incorporate into my collage necklaces, mixed media works, to resell, and on occasion – to decorate my home. I love antiques for many reasons – they offer a glimpse into the past and sometimes reveal fascinating histories. I also appreciate the workmanship and fine materials employed by skilled craftsman of yesteryear. But I have to admit there is an inherently sad aspect to these sales and now that my elderly parents’ mortality looms on the near horizon, I am seeing possessions in a new light. My mother has been in poor health for a few years – several falls she suffered recently led to cleaning out years of accumulation at my parents’ house. There were a few treasures, but also a lot of junk – the kind of stuff that piles up over the years through entropy – after a dozen or so visits, I have made some progress.
One of the reasons we love going to Kenosha, Wisconsin a few times a year is not to buy cheese, but to browse a wonderful little shop crammed with treasures called Monica’s Thrift Shop. A bit off the beaten path, this unassuming store is loaded from floor to ceiling with an amazing array of new, vintage, and antique goodies with something for everyone’s taste. Our most recent visit was on May 29 and we weren’t disappointed. In fact, I would say that there was more merchandise packed into this place than the last time we stopped by. Even the bathroom at this shop is decked out with incredibly cool items.
This is not the Pier 1 Imports of my youth – that was a store with intriguing, inexpensive knick-knacks from foreign lands and eclectic candy and snacks to boot. Today, the Cost Plus World Market is somewhat reminiscent of the Pier 1 of my childhood – great food section and a lot of cool knick knacks that won’t break the bank. I fondly remember shopping at a Pier 1 that was across the street from my elementary school – now the site of the Lincolnwood Public Library. I would pick up Botan rice candy and other little things for a total tab of a dollar or less – my mom never guessed that on occasion I saved my lunch money to treat myself to these delights. The Pier 1 Imports of today is not inexpensive and many of the housewares resemble the tacky wonders sold at Hobby Lobby. In December 2010 I received a surprisingly ugly holiday gift from an ex-colleague that I returned to Pier 1 for a merchandise credit. More than a year later, I decided to trade in this credit for some goodies – there is no longer a store near me, but I discovered one close to my parent’s house in the Village Crossing shopping mall. Well, Jeff and I were hard-pressed to find anything that tickled our fancy. There was a beautiful, heavily textured colorful rug from South America reduced from $49.99 to $34.99 – still way too expensive for a 16 x 20-inch throw rug. And I fear that our cat Pepper would have wreaked havoc on it anyway with her back claws.
Many years ago I donated all of my unsold collectibles, antiques and better household goods to Clearbrook’s Practically Perfect Resale Shop. That is until their prices became too high and many of my donated items never saw the light of day on the sales floor. While it is still possible to score a bargain now and then at this store, it is so cluttered with beat-up furniture and tightly arranged displays that browsing is difficult. I recently had a close call when I nearly impaled myself on a sharp clothing rack end that was in way too close proximity to the shoes. And as far as those shoes – it is refreshing to see that they dropped the price on shoes from $4.00 to $3.50, but the shoes have been disgusting and outdated of late. In the past I actually scored a pair of Finn Comfort shoes, really cool red and black cowboy boots, and several other nice pairs.
I have never seen such fervent shoppers in my entire life as this morning at the Goodwill store grand opening in Des Plaines. I could barely get in the door – when I succeeded, I was pushed and shoved and within 30 seconds a rude woman slammed several heavy wood serving trays into my side. I couldn’t figure out why there was such an enormous crowd – the checkout line snaked all the way around the store. I stopped counting at 80 people waiting to buy used merchandise! Many of these shoppers had items piled high in their carts and were bound to be waiting for at least an hour for the privilege of buying these irresistible goods.
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.