Anyone who’s really into thrifting knows that it’s all about the hunt. There’s something empowering about walking into a store with thousands of random, mismatched pieces of clothing, and then stumbling across the perfect outfit. There’s an unmistakable adrenaline rush as you spot the brand name, check to see the item is in good shape, and then finally notice the price tag: $2.00. For many of us who share in this love for bargain hunting at second hand stores, these moments make you want to call your other thrifty friends and brag. Look. What. I. Found.
But sometimes, thrifting can offer even more benefits than just finding a steal of a deal on clothes that would cost five times as much had they been purchased brand new. Many thrift stores in the Reno-Sparks area are tied into non-profit organizations that are funded by the sales of donated clothing, furniture, shoes and knick knacks. My personal favorite is St. Vincent’s Thrift Shop, the official thrift store for Catholic Charities of Northern Nevada. The store is located at the corner of Fourth Street and Valley Road, and it just might be downtown Reno’s best kept secret. I’m lucky enough to work in an office right above the massive store, in my position as Development Director for Catholic Charities of Northern Nevada. Not only do I feel lucky that I have such convenient access to a store that allows me to feed my thrifting addiction on a daily basis, but I also feel really proud knowing that every dollar I spend there goes toward feeding, clothing, and assisting our local homeless population through the nine poverty assistance programs of Catholic Charities of Northern Nevada. Now that is something to call your friends and brag about.
My job has also allowed me to learn a few insider tips about thrift stores that I never knew before, like the fact that all the really great stuff is sometimes snagged up before it even hits the sales floor. To confirm my suspicions, I talked to 52-year-old Suzy Jones, a merchandise sorter at St. Vincent’s Thrift Shop. Suzy has worked at St. Vincent’s for six years, and says if she had to guess, she thinks she’s probably handled millions of donated items, everything from cups and saucers to Legos to fishing equipment. She says even she’s not immune to the draw of getting a great deal on something unique.
“I’d say I buy something almost every day,” she says with a laugh. “You know, it’s just that special item that catches my eye. We get a 25% discount as employees, but only after the item has been on the floor for two days. So sometimes I buy things full price just to make sure it doesn’t get snagged up.” Suzy holds up an embroidered pillow she bought for her brother, and a little antique teacup with strawberries painted on it. “I got this for my mother,” she says, tearing up a little. “She passed away in early December and she loved strawberries.”
Suzy says while she does love to shop for herself, she is able to hold some restraint since she knows that the most valuable items she finds will bring in the most money for poverty services. “As I’m sorting, I’m looking for unique items, you know, something vintage, something really cool, something that will pull in the interest of a shopper. If it’s old, the price automatically goes up.” Suzy’s job is to sort items to be sold and used for different purposes. Pieces that are stained, broken or in bad shape either go into the Bargain Bin section of St. Vincent’s to be sold quickly and cheaply at a price per pound. If they’re heavy items that can’t be sold, they go to salvage. If they’re good quality items, they are stickered with a price and send out to the sales floor. “Everyone who shops here comes in looking for specific things, depending on their interests. Bookstore owners want books, antique store owners want furniture, and lots of little old ladies who sew like to come in for fabric and buttons and ribbon.” Suzy says many of these dedicated thrifters even come to St. Vincent’s from out of state, and often spend hundreds of dollars in one visit.
When I asked Suzy for examples of some of the most interesting items that have ever passed through her hands, she said there are way too many to remember. Still though, she says there are some pieces that are more memorable for her than others. “Once, I was sorting books and I came across a folded newspaper clipping inside one of them. It was the original article that announced JFK’s death. Can you believe that? There it was, just folded up in a book,” she says, squinting her eyes and laughing. “We’re also always looking to see where things were made, which actually makes more of a difference than you might think. Like if it says it was ‘Made in Germany,’ or ‘Made in Japan,’ that’s no big deal, but if it says ‘Made in West Germany’ or ‘Made in Occupied Japan,’ then that’s something really special. It says something about the history of that piece, so we know right away that item is going to be priced a bit higher.” Suzy says vintage clothing is also valued higher, especially beaded clutch purses, wedding dresses and hats from the 1920’s and 1930’s. “Those pieces we put in a special section in the back of the store, and you’ll see people walk in and head straight there,” she says.
What I really wanted to ask Suzy is what every committed thrift store shopper is probably wondering about. What are the best days and times to shop in order to get the best selection and deals? Suzy says while she wishes she had the answer to that often-asked question, it’s truly impossible to say. “The thing is, the selection of merchandize at St. Vincent’s is constantly changing. We have donations coming in all hours of the day, seven days a week, and we do donation pickups three days a week, so the turnover on the sales floor is never ending.” She says that’s why the truly dedicated shoppers—especially business owners looking to resell products—often come in more than once per day. “You could come in the morning one day, and then come back again in the afternoon and find a completely different selection than you saw earlier. I’m not kidding. It really happens that fast!”
Suzy says regardless of when and why people shop at St. Vincent’s Thrift Shop, all of the money is going toward a worthy cause. “It used to bother me when people would come in and buy from us and then re-sell our items in their own antique stores, but not anymore. I’m just glad the money we bring in here goes toward poverty services. I feel good about that,” she says. After all, Suzy believes thrift store shopping for some people is not just a hobby, but she’d even go so far as to call it a form of personal expression. “Especially during Burning Man,” says Suzy. “We know when Burning Man is close because things get really busy in here. A lot of feathers, a lot of color, and a lot of really interesting people. It’s a fun time.”
St. Vincent’s Thrift Shop is located at 500 E. Fourth Street in Downtown Reno. We are open Mondays through Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Sundays from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.