Thrift stores and yard sales are part of the crazy quilt fabric of America. Even in these times of pandemic and political polarization, people enjoy the bargain hunting and community camaraderie that can be had in the aisles of thrift stores or at the display tables of yard sales. In these times of angst and anger, millions of Americans can take solace in the delightful disorder of places where “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.” The eccentricity and serendipity of thrift stores and yard sales are soothing antidotes to the craziness and uncertainty of our troubled world. Whether they are searching for clothing, housewares, books, tools or Halloween costumes, customers seek out thrift stores and yard sales all across America and right here in Athens.
Yard sales go on during most of the year here in Athens, and thrift stores are an institution in this community. Though the Salvation Army’s thrift store on Hawthorne Avenue closed recently, Athens still has several thrift stores for those seeking bargains and hoping for some semblance of normality in abnormal times. Among the thrift stores in Athens are the Atlanta Mission Athens Thrift Store, Emmanuel Episcopal Thrift House, Project Safe Thrift Store, J&J Flea Market, St. Mary’s Hospice House Thrift Store, America’s Thrift Stores, two Habitat for Humanity ReStores and two Goodwill Thrift Store and Donation Center facilities. University students and Athens residents who visit any or all of those stores will find anything from household necessities to whimsical kitsch at cut-rate prices, and they also will find memories that are free. In Athens and around this nation, Goodwill Hunting is not just the title of a movie.
I have been frequenting yard sales and thrift stores for decades, but I always enjoy the fun of finding something that once was part of someone’s life and that will become a part of mine. The desk I’m using while writing this column was a yard-sale find from more than 40 years ago. It’s a sturdy but decorative wooden desk that has served me well over the years as I have used it to write hundreds of articles. I paid ten bucks for my desk long ago, but I’ve used it to compose tens of thousands of words with typewriters or computers. The writing instruments have changed over the decades, but my $10 yard-sale desk is a relic that combines simplicity and service along with memories of past stories I have written and anticipation of more stories to come.
Thomas Jefferson said that he could not live without books. I know the feeling. Some of the best books that I have are fortuitous finds from thrift stores and yard sales. Just recently, I found a copy of The American President at a local thrift store. The stunningly illustrated large-format coffee table book was published in conjunction with the PBS television series of the same name. The book had a retail price of $50. I got it for a couple of bucks, thanks to good luck at a thrift store. Another book bargain I found several years back at a thrift store was a National Geographic Society volume of color photographs of the universe taken by the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope. That thrift store book is a treasure, but the price was a pittance. Awe and inspiration have no price tags.
Not long ago at a thrift store, I found a signed copy of Personal History, the autobiography of Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham. It went onto my bookshelf along with a signed copy of A Good Life by Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee that I had found in a different thrift store some years ago. Both those journalists led their paper’s coverage of the Watergate scandal, and I felt lucky indeed to find signed copies of their autobiographies by being in the right place at the right time in a thrift store. I have found anything from books to bicycles to Sardi’s nightclub ashtrays to a Route 66 souvenir plate while prowling yard sales and thrift stores over the years. Finding surprise treasures is a balm for the spirit during these perilous times.
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