Thrift Score: The Stuff, the Method, the Madness!

Thrift Score: The Stuff, the Method, the Madness!

by Al Hoff

Shopping is America's No. 1 pastime, but nothing beats the thrill of thrift shopping, The lowest prices! One-of-a-kind items! Oddities from the past!

Let All Hoff, a 20-year veteran of the thrift-store wars, tell you why you must always check the toy section (thrifts stick the best weird stuff there) or how to try on clothes in the aisle without showing

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Shopping is America's No. 1 pastime, but nothing beats the thrill of thrift shopping, The lowest prices! One-of-a-kind items! Oddities from the past!

Let All Hoff, a 20-year veteran of the thrift-store wars, tell you why you must always check the toy section (thrifts stick the best weird stuff there) or how to try on clothes in the aisle without showing your underwear!

Thrift Score is packed with fun information: Learn the origins of thrift-store perennials like plastic dinnerware, polyester shirts and paint-by-number masterpieces. Get smart about buying used clothes. Discover new uses for previously overlooked items like bowling balls and Herb Alpert records. See how easy it is to gather up common thrift items and throw fabulous theme parties — Tiki Party tonight! New Wave Party tomorrow! Marvel at the folly of dead fads like designer jeans, CB radio and fondue.

Thrift Score is a funny, useful book no serious thrifter or thrifter wannabe should be without.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
These inexpensive guides represent both sides of the secondhand market craze. For those who like their haute couture on the cheap, Schneider lists hundreds of consignment stores nationwide, as well as in Australia, Ireland, France, Canada, and England. The listings include name, address, phone number, hours of operation, and specialties. From Alabama's Birmingham Antique Mall to St. Alban's Born Again Clothing in Worland, Wyoming, this has just what the converted consignment store shopper will need. Hoff, creator of the zine ThriftSCORE, offers not so much the where but the why and why not of thrift stores. Her philosophy is simple: life is a never-ending treasure hunt, and if you like what you dig up and it's cheap enough, buy it. She offers tips on finding the best collectibles, how to browse shops, and even how to analyze the cars in the parking lot for obvious yuppie interlopers. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, Hoff makes thrift-shop hunting seem like the only way to go. Her book is funny and might convince those who think of thrift-shops as just this side of the town dump that the value of anything is in the eyeand pocketbookof the beholder. Both books are recommended for public libraries.Bette-Lee Fox, "Library Journal"
David Futrelle
I used to think I could live, somehow, outside of consumer culture. A grad student, bereft of funds and only partially cognizant of the exigencies of style, I bought only what was absolutely necessary, taking furniture from dumpsters and replenishing my wardrobe only on those occasions when, once or twice a year, I went to visit my parents and their charge cards. The only shops I spent more than a minute in were used book stores, and I told myself that my book purchases were academic necessities. I could even withstand the annual onslaught of Christmas -- often holding out until (quite literally) the night before Christmas before stepping gingerly into the consumer maelstrom to snatch up a few (cheap, crappy) last-minute gifts.

Then I discovered thrift stores, and my latent consumerist cravings emerged with a vengeance. From my first big score (a set of useful mugs and an original oil painting based on the "Love is ..." comic strip, all for $1.29) I was hooked. "The smart shopper shops often," the sign in my local thrift proclaimed, and by this peculiar standard I was a genius. I bought shirts; I bought pants; I bought file cabinets. I bought black velvet paintings of kitties. I bought hideous ceramic figurines. I bought more than 100 novels about nurses.

Al Hoff understands the passion, the sheer irrational thrill of thrifting. Several years back, Hoff began a modest little zine, Thrift Score, to share her experiences with fellow thrift devotees. Soon the pages of Thrift Score were filled with letters from a vast and diverse Thrift Army, responding to her questions and giving all the gory details of their most obscure finds.

Now Hoff has distilled her thrifting wisdom into a book, also called Thrift Score -- a guide to buying that makes (as they say) a perfect Christmas gift. Though not quite as deliciously eccentric as her zine, the book is an entertaining and practical guide to the lowest rungs of our consumer ladder, with Hoff taking on subjects ranging from the proper care and cleaning of thrifted lambswool sweaters to suggestions on how to furnish a Manly Den. (She suggests starting with an "All-American Cedar Souvenir Plaque.")

As Hoff understands, the joy of thrifting lies not only in the occasional amazing score, but in the pleasure one can take in examining the raw materials of history firsthand. Thrift stores, after all, are where fads go to die; in a good thrift store, you can find dictionaries of CB slang, Pac Man pajamas, Masters of the Universe bedsheets. You can find almost every bestseller ever published -- except, of course, the ones you might actually want to read. Every thrift store in existence seems to have a copy of Gail Sheehy's Passages, John Naisbett's Megatrends, Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities, very few of them appear to have been read.

And then, of course, there are the Herb Alpert records. Hoff has a theory about Herb Alpert. Whipped Cream and other Delights sold 500,000 copies when it first came out -- and, as Hoff points out, most devoted thrifters have seen what seems to be "each and every one of these." Perhaps, Hoff suggests, all the copies of this infernal album have left the hands of their original owners and are now caught in an endless limbo, circulating and recirculating through the thrift stores of America like an especially virulent urban legend.

My own passion for thrifts waxes and wanes. At times, even the thought of entering the squalid disorder of a thrift makes my skin crawl. Other times, I can feel the fever coming over me, and I will gladly spend hours braving the crowded aisles, the screaming babies, the miserable music, the rancid human odors, sorting through pile upon pile of junk in search of the perfect score. I plowed through my copy of Thrift Score in an evening, reading like a man possessed. The next day I hit a brand new thrift. The magic was still there -- waiting for me like Herb Albert, whipped cream in hand. SALON Dec. 19, 1997

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
6.11(w) x 9.22(h) x 0.67(d)

Read an Excerpt

Why Thrift stores?

Why thrift stores? What about flea markets, garage sales, yard sales, church bazaars, junk stores, auctions, dumpsters, and the curb on garbage pickup day? This book focuses on thrift stores because, while I have shopped all types of secondhand venues, thrift stores have always intrigued me the most. A few key things distinguish thrift stores from other used-goods marketplaces.

The Stigma

Traditionally, thrift shopping has been associated with the poor. The stigma of "used" has fallen away from the flea market, garage sale, and consignment stores, but it still clings to the thrifts. Have you ever met those people who think garage saling is great fun and filled with bargains, but think thrift shopping is gross? This stigma is still so pervasive that some thrift stores are working overtime to freshen up their images in an attempt to reach middle-class shoppers. The downside for us culture-junkers is that "fancier" thrifts now jettison a lot of the schlocky donated merchandise in favor of sure-sellers like office blouses donated by retail stores. The Goodwill chain is especially guilty of this upscaling, stocking large areas of the store with cheap new $1-$4 plastic merchandise. Hey, Goodwill! If I wanted to go to the Dollar Store, I would! I come here for the chipped teapots and rotary phones!

The Anonymity

While we've all been bothered by chatty thrifters, and these conversations run from the reasonable ("Hon, do you like this sweater on me?") to the bizarre ("Steal anything good lately?"), thrifts are where you can shop in peace and anonymity. Other shoppers are fixated just like you on buzzing about the storeand snaring the bargains. There's a pleasant intensity to it--you've got thirty people in a small confined area, all semi-frantic that the other twenty-nine are going to find the good thing first. Timing is critical in thrifts, and most shoppers won't give it up to chitchat about the weather.

Sellers in small junk stores, flea markets, and yard sales have a vested interest in getting rid of their stuff--it's taking up valuable space in their store or they don't want to load it back in the van. (Thrift-store employees could care less if the merchandise sits and gathers dusts.) Such sellers are apt to be bored from sitting all day watching their junk age. They can be eager to talk you into a sale either by being friendly or by helpfully pointing out the frying pan that matches your shirt. Now, unless you enjoy being rude, you're trapped into responding, and the worst is when they hard-sell some awful thing you have no interest in buying. Some people love the chattiness of fleas and yard sales. Nothing wrong with that, but it ain't my scene.

Comeback City

With flea markets or yard sales, even though it may be junk to the sellers, they're still motivated enough to drag it out and hopefully make back a few bucks. However, the thrift donor has no financial motive. Thrift merchandise has traveled so very close to the bottom. Somebody was a wee bit considerate and gave the junk to the thrift stores rather than just pitching it in the trash. I like knowing that an item in the thrift just barely escaped death and, pending a purchase, will get a second shot at life.

"But ... I Love Garage Sales!"

All that said, let me stress that there is no reason not to shop at garage sales and flea markets, drop into any odd store that looks dark and quirky, or root around the trash cans in your neighborhood. I do--and much of the information in this book will certainly enhance your shopping pleasure at these other secondhand markets. It's about finding what you want and for the price you love! Wherever. Hell, if Macy's marked everything down to 99 cents tomorrow, I'd be first in line.

Why Thrift?

Save Money!

Thrifting sure will save you money. Lots of money. New stuff is rarely cheap, and used goods are sold for a fraction of the original cost while still remaining functional. You'll save mountains of money, if--and here's the catch--if you can control your impulses and only buy stuff you need. You don't need eight identical statuettes that say "I Love You This Much." If you can't help being a frivolous shopper and a spendaholic, you're still better off at the thrifts. Simple math says that for $10 you can score one thing at the mall or a dozen items at the thrift.

If you already know you're a compulsive thrift shopper--or you begin to realize you might be--here's some free advice: By all means, keeping buying. It's good for the economy, it keeps forlorn objects out of the landfill, and it makes you feel good. I don't recommend trying to keep track of just how much you do spend at thrifts. I did this once. It evolved out of an argument with my husband about who was spending more money on useless items. I wrote an elaborate database for tracking purchases by buyer, store, and item bought. At the end of three months (a fiscal quarter), I tallied up the numbers. Never mind who spent more--I couldn't see the trees for the forest! I was so shocked by the amount we had spent on crap in a mere three months that I deleted the entire database and decided ignorance is bliss. Better to consider items individually, as in "This only cost 79 cents."

Saved from the Trash!

The other obvious plus of thrifting is ecological. By rescuing items from the thrift store and reusing them, you're keeping them from the growing garbage heaps. Scads of perfectly decent stuff gets thrown away, and it's a higher calling to maximize the use of these items until they die a natural death. Pure capitalists may tear at their hair and wall that you're upsetting the delicate balance of the whole national economy, That's nonsense. We'd all be in better shape if we weren't so wasteful as a culture. Besides, you're just as apt to spend the money you save on something new you need, like beer, so the real-world economy keeps rolling along.


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