Susan Dromey-Heeter's Budget Vogue: Pricey 'thrift' stores have lost their way

SUSAN DROMEY-HEETER October 05. 2013 3:43AM

My passions are frugality, fashion, fun and fabulousness ... in that order. For that reason, you'll often find me at thrift shops scouring racks for that ultimate find, that ultimate accessory, that ultimate gift.

One of my favorite games to play is, "OK, I've got 10 bucks. Let's see what I can find." Yes, it's an addiction, though not one that's sent me off to the poor house. It has allowed me some massive fun and given me some wonderful joy and laughs and gratitude.

Just recently, I gave the brand new hammock I scored for seven bucks from Greenland's Second Generation to a friend who has been searching high and low for one - but did not want to spend hundreds. She was thrilled. I felt good. It was a win/win.

Alas, there are moments of late when I've noticed thrift shops getting, ahem, a bit on the high-end scale, and at some of these places I've found myself losing that thrill of the find.

No, no - not all of you out there. Certainly not you, Full Circle. Nor you, Wonderland, and definitely not you, Find It on the First.

But, some of you, well, I'm here to bring you back to reality. I feel it's a service, a kindness - a dose of good business acumen. I feel a bit like Stacy and Clinton of TLC's "What Not to Wear" when they discourage that woman from wearing oversized sweatshirts and encourage something form-fitting with an empire waist.

The other day, I stopped into one of my former favorite haunts to see what I could find, and when I spotted a travel clock for 15 bucks, well, I knew the owners had lost their mojo. Granted, the clock was new, was a Braun, maybe even had a working battery, but $15? That's a lot of dough for something in a thrift shop; I think it cost that much brand new at the box store down the street.

Granted, a box store is not donating proceeds of its sales to homeless shelters, soup kitchens or cancer victims the way the shop in question is. I get it: Thrift shops are nonprofits designed to raise money for vital and necessary services. But when a thrift shop becomes more couture, more upscale, well, the thrill is gone, and I won't return. As Ricky Ricardo used to say to Lucy, "Let me 'splain."

Years ago, I found some spectacular Gucci boots at Wonderland Thrift Shop in Exeter. They were suede, mahogany, feats of brilliance ... simply, gorgeous. And they were two bucks. All shoes at Wonderland tend to be that: two bucks.

Alas, I could not get my oversized calves into those delightful boots, and, believe me, I worked. I even bought those compression stockings (kind of defeating the purpose of my massive savings; those compression stockings cost a chunk of change!), and still, like Cinderella's sisters, I could not get my feet into the desired footwear. So, I sold them on eBay - for $350.

Did I do anything wrong? Anything immoral? Anything opportunistic? I tend to think not.

You see, since finding those boots, I have returned to Wonderland at least 300 times - every time looking for another pair of Gucci boots. Have I found them? Nope. Have I spent my eBay profit? Absolutely - and probably three times over.

By now, could I have purchased those Gucci boots new? You bet. But, that's not the point. The point is, I've told everyone I know about those Gucci boots; I've written about them previously in this column, and I will talk ad nauseam about those boots should you ask. I mention Wonderland in every conversation.So, dear thrift shops opting to become high-end boutiques, please keep things simple. Kindly keep prices reasonable, kindly keep things thrifty. The buzz will start, the bargain hunters will flock, the profits will roll in from those repeaters like me who upon scoring something fabulous for a buck or five will use the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger and remark, "I'll be back."

And, I assure you, we all will.

Susan Dromey-Heeter's "Budget Vogue" column is published the first week of every month in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email her at

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