Brooklyn Thrift Shop Challenge

I’m dating myself by saying this, but I remember when you could find really great stuff* in thrift shops: Bakelite radios. Art Deco vases for a quarter. Eames chairs for $15. Rya rugs. Higgins glass. Chrome cocktail sets. 1940s barkcloth. World’s Fair juice glasses. *Not all at once

The other day, I decided to find out whether you could find anything at all worth buying anymore.

p1020309I was on a mission.  I was thinking of the empty shelves of the cottage in Springs (left and below) I’m going to contract on next week.  I’ll need to furnish and kit out the place cheaply and in a great hurry, between closing April 15 – fingers crossed, God willing, Inshallah, spit spit – and Memorial Day, which I hope will be the start of my summer rental season.p10203061

So I started at one of my old haunts, the Salvation Army in Bed-Stuy (the one on Downing Street near the Broken Angel House), where, back in the day, I picked up a hand-tinted panorama of Genoa, Italy, for $7; an entire wardrobe of some lady’s super-stylish, big-shouldered 1940s cast-offs, for $20; and a great, swooping sofa a la Vladimir Kagan, upholstered in orange with glints of gold.

The place hasn’t changed a bit. It’s still dreary and depressing, with that thrift-shop smell.

But I held my breath and picked out a white melamine mixing bowl, a set of Oxo knives, and a green wire drinking-glass carrier that might be ‘old’ (total $12). Not very exciting. Then I went into the furniture department and spotted, among plaid couches and utter crap, a blonde wood armchair with webbed seats that I momentarily hoped might be Jens Risom but quickly realized was IKEA.

p1020831No matter. It was $25, in great shape, and will totally work in Springs. I bought it.

I moved on to the Goodwill on Livingston Street in downtown Brooklyn, where I had an epiphany: where yesterday’s thrift shops were filled with the products of Woolworth’s and Kresge’s, today’s are filled with second-hand Target, Crate & Barrel, Pottery Barn, IKEA, and Martha Stewart for K-Mart. Which would actually be OK, if the prices were startlingly better for those incomplete sets of dishes and silverware. But they aren’t, which begs the question: why not just go to Target, IKEA, etc. and buy the stuff new?

Still, I bought two turquoise chargers ($4) and four dessert plates with hula dancers that I recognized from Fish’s Eddy ($8, probably the same as Fish’s Eddy).

Thrift shop bonanza

Thrift shop bonanza

Then I made a final foray to the Bendel’s of thrift shops, Housing Works on Montague Street. And there I didn’t buy anything. Why? Because the abundance of well-priced, relatively tasteful stuff (white restaurant china and glasses for $1-2 apiece, a plywood media unit on casters by Blu Dot for $165, all the art and photography books I’ll need to fill those shelves) is such that, when I’m absolutely sure the cottage is mine, I may not need to go anywhere else.

8 thoughts on “Brooklyn Thrift Shop Challenge

  1. I suspect that the ole’ Salvation Army’s have been replaced by Craig’s List… For example up here today you could accessorize with a 1949 FarmAll tractor for only $1900, add a few free pigs, roosters, hens that lay green eggs and a reasonably-priced pony gelding for local color and what renter could resist!

  2. Have you tried the junk yard in the outskirts of Greenport on the left before the sign for the Silver Sands. they have some real bargains but the place looks like hell. don’t go on a rainy day the front floods, but I love it. We run a B&B in East Marion and were able to get quite a few good things there.

  3. I know what you mean about the thirft shops (Goodwill has a direct line to Target). However, I have to say that the Goodwill has been the source for a few fab finds, including a set of ten vintage Forstoria milk glass goblets for $1 each, brand new YSL and Pucci shoes, in my hard to find common size 8 1/2, $20 each, Donna Karan leather pants with tags, $15, and my favorite, a yellow crock bag a la Nancy Gonzalez ($1900) for 4.99. None of it vintage, all of it authentic. Butter consignment shop on Atlantic is not cheap but they have a few good buys, especially in shoes. My Louboutins were $150, never worn, certified genuine, with dust bag. I expect to find more good stuff there as people start selling off their high end shoes.

  4. Funny you mention the World’s Fair glasses. I actually bought two (of the 4 they had) at a thrift store in Manhattan about 8 years ago. I’ve always wondered if I should have bought them all. I think they cost me $15 for the pair, which seemed a lot at the time….

  5. check out If you don’t mind picking it up you can find some cool stuff. FREE:)

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