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Goods and Services Winners

Best Thrift Store

Village Economy Thrift Store

Michelle Gienow

790 W. North Ave.

Posted 9/16/2009

Let's say you once owned something of value. Not monetary value, more like an emotional attachment. Let's suppose further that it was a tuxedo. Not just any tuxedo, but one made of the purest blue velvet. And perhaps the pants were too large and you never got them taken in, but the jacket fit perfectly and was just the thing for those occasions which called for a blue velvet tuxedo jacket, which admittedly are few, and get fewer as one ages, but nonetheless, you would surely agree that it was a huge mistake, made in a moment of weakness, to get rid of it.

A replacement jacket was once easy to obtain. You just went to the place you got yours--a thrift store. But for whatever reason--the passing of years, the rise of "vintage clothing" stores, the gradual passing of velvet tuxedo jackets into the hands of collectors, specialists, and legitimate lounge acts--they are scarce on today's market.

The Goodwill stores have turned into damaged-goods outlets for big discount chains, while other stores recognize (or misinterpret) the value of their wares. It is possible to go to a vintage-clothing store and pay big bucks, but there is no fun in that--thrift stores still teach the virtue of patience and offer the shock of the unexpected that gave value to your velvet tuxedo in the first place. There are still a few bona fide thrift stores in the area, though. Places where bargains can be had and treasures can be uncovered.

Village Economy doesn't look like much from the front--just a sign in a parking lot on North Avenue--because the door is in the rear. But inside it's a vast space, roughly organized by gender and clothing style. The obsolete gadgets are in the back--on a recent visit, some stereos of dubious functionality, an old black Singer sewing machine ( about $35), and one of more recent vintage (about $13). You peruse the shirts (about $3 to $6 for short sleeves, $7 to $8 for long sleeves). A red and black bowling shirt falls at the lower end of the pricing, embroidered on the front with the name "Angel," but it is not a King Louie, so you look elsewhere. A blue Carhart hoodie (about $10) catches your eye, tantalizingly labeled as is, but you can find nothing wrong with it.

Passing through the aisle of men's pants ($3.90 to $7.90), and jeans (about a dollar more than that), you seize on the suits. There are some fine ones, perfect for a job interview, wedding, or court date (about $30), and blazers worthy of a sportscaster (about $13). A leisure suit (about $13) that Mr. Furley could have worn with pride, hangs neglected on its hangar, but alas, there are no velvet tuxes.

You begin to feel, as a nearby patron tells her son, that "We need to get out of this aisle, I think we done did enough." Looking up, though, you see something else. It is a framed caricature of Mark Twain (about $25). Pricey, but the certificate on the back dates it to 1885.

Do you need it? Of course not. But would not having it spark a lifetime of regret? Would it haunt your dreams like a blue velvet tuxedo? It's a chance you are not willing to take, and you emerge onto North Avenue about $25 poorer, but clutching your new possession. There will be other velvet tuxedos. And this is how you find them.

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