By Jacki Huntington
The typical thrift shopper is not so typical. At Club Nova’s thrift shop at 103 West Main Street, where shoes go for less than $3, the crowd is a roughly even spread of races, ages and genders, according to co-manager Ed Hudgins.
The same can be said of thrift shops themselves. Carrboro boasts more than 10 thrift shops, antique stores and other venues for shopping resale. The town’s menagerie of these resale stores, their offerings ranging from fine antique armoires to used spatulas, provide refuge to both consumers and the disadvantaged.
At Club Nova, where dolls, kitchen wares and other standard resale fare decorate the small, colorful space, all sales contribute to funding the nonprofit organization’s work to empower the mentally ill. In turn, members of the clubhouse can work in the thrift store alongside staff and volunteers.
“We provide a service. Granted, it’s not to the whole population,” Hudgins said. “But if you consider the thrift shop, it is.”
Sarah Robinson, 25, of Carrboro, visits Club Nova’s thrift store often. “You have to come all the time to catch the new stuff,” she said. Robinson doesn’t work a lot, so she goes to the store knowing that she’ll be able to afford everything she needs right there.
She found a brand new Marmot raincoat for $3 at Club Nova’s thrift store. The coat would have sold for more than $100 outside of the resale setting. “I told them they should have priced it higher,” she said. “But they’re not about that.”
PTA Thrift Shop, less than a block west of Club Nova, is what some people call “Carrboro’s department store,” executive director Barbara Jessie-Black said. Having no stereotypical customer base, she said the thrift store serves those who value affordability, craft materials, unique items, local causes and environmentally-sound shopping.
“When you see all of the stuff that is donated, you see that we are a society of excess,” Jessie-Black said. “That’s the dark side. That’s what keeps us in business.”
Approximately 50 percent of items donated to PTA Thrift Shop are not sellable. The organization is a member of a “green” business association and has an extensive recycling program for these items, which include scrap metal and cloth. Donated food is given to the Interfaith Council on the same street. Club Nova, too, passes on its unmarketable wares to Friendship Clothing in Garner, a company that pays by the pound for old clothing and sends it overseas to populations in need.
Robinson, who does a lot of thrift shopping for the sake of conserving resources, believes that buying used is an important practice of sustainability. “You don’t have to buy new stuff,” she said. “Because it’s already here!”
Also a nonprofit, PTA Thrift Shops benefit 18 schools in the area. According to Jessie-Black, the organization has consistently given between $250,000 and $300,000 to the schools each year.
At 201 Weaver Street, The Red Hen is not so much a thrift store as an all-in-one resource for motherhood and child care with an emphasis on sustainability and local and handmade products.
While it is easy to spend a lot of money caring for babies and clothing a pregnant belly, DeeDee Lavinder, owner of The Red Hen, has priced her used items 20 to 50 percent lower than retail prices. She also answers questions and gives advice. There is a fully-stocked diaper changing station in the store’s bathroom, and there are two play stations—one inside and one outside—to occupy children accompanying their parents.
These touches of quality—also evident in the sweet smell of the store and the way that Lavinder steams each and every one of the used items of clothing before displaying it for sale—represent a concerted effort to lure customers away from buying new.
“We want to reach across the thrift gap,” Lavinder said. “People who don’t necessarily shop resale shop here, because it doesn’t smell like a thrift store.”
Christina Bohanek, of Chapel Hill, who was shopping with her daughter Caroline, is a big fan of The Red Hen. “It’s because I’m cheap,” she laughed. “Especially for babies, they grow out of [clothes] so fast, and they throw up on everything.”
Thrift shopping, for many, is less an exercise of practicality than it is of collecting and treasure hunting. Joe Gilby, a Carrboro resident who volunteers at the Interfaith Council across the street from Club Nova’s thrift shop, visits the store at least three times a month—mainly to search for books.
“I’m a book nut,” Gilby explained. He thrift shops more than he should, he added, recalling his constantly growing collection of “junk.” His prize finds include a book and tape set of Vietnamese language lessons, though he said he hasn’t actually learned Vietnamese yet.
Down the street at PTA Thrift Shop, Adam Jih, another Carrboro resident and treasure hunter, crouches on the floor and patiently flips through large boxes full of vinyl records. He’s a collector, and today he’s in the market for jazz, surf and beach music. He also pulls out an album of Gregorian chants for good measure. He likes store’s musical offerings, because they’re half the price of those at Club Nova’s thrift shop, which lies less than a block east.
“I don’t have a car anymore,” Jih said, explaining his concentration on Carrboro thrift stores. “So I can’t expand my horizons and go somewhere far away.”
Joe Wiggs, owner of Scavenger Antiques at 102 A West Main Street, doesn’t consider his store a thrift shop, but a principle of value underlies his career in antiques, too.
“It’s knowledge,” he said. “Knowing what you’re getting and not wasting money.”
Carrboro Resale Stores:
204-A W. Main St.
Club Nova Thrift Shop
103 W Main St. Apt D
404 E Main St.
Nice Price Books
100 Boyd St.
Oddities and Such
501 W Main St.
PTA Thrift Shop
115 W Main St.
Really Really Free Market
Carrboro Town Commons, First Saturday of every month, 2-5 p.m.
The Red Hen
201 Weaver St.
118 E Main St.
102-A West Main St.
309 E Main St.
124 Fidelity St.
Trading Post Inc.
Ste A, 106 S Greensboro St.