Last week I told you about our trip to Portland and promised that I’d share some more about “thrift” shops in that lovely city. A really helpful woman at the downtown info centre suggested two thrift shops: the Goodwill on 10th and the Buffalo Exchange.
Buffalo Exchange 1036 W. Burnside Portland
What’s cool about this place is its unique approach to second hand. It’s neither pure thrift nor pure consignment but runs more like a used book store. Rather than simply accept donations to sort through, staff will consider your donations then offer you a mix of cash and store credit for your offerings – what they don’t want, you take back. This system means they don’t have to deal with the unwanted stuff. Very Smart.
They are a retail store with paid employees. They are environmentally and charity oriented with a tokens-for-bags initiative in which customers are given tokens instead of bags for their stuff and for each token, Buffalo Exchange donates a nickel to a charity of the customer’s choice. Last year they raised nearly $525,000 for local charities. That’s pretty cool.
In spite of all that great stuff, I had two problems with the shop. First, its inventory seemed to cater almost exclusively to hipsters, which is great if you’re a hipster. (Actually, Portland is over-run with hipsters – it’s like Vancouver on steroids.) I am 49 years old and, sadly, too fat to be a hipster, so there was not much there for me.
Second, everything seemed to me to be a tad too expensive. I found these two Banana Republic sweaters – both in great condition – but the black one was $15 and the Grey/green one was $17.50 (interesting aside: both fine Italian Merino wool, black one made in Italy, the green one made in China… hmm…) Yes, I bought them. I bought them because I was on holidays and that’s what I do when I’m on holidays: I spend too much money for stuff that I wouldn’t buy if I were at home. Most things were over-priced in my opinion but the store was PACKED with hipsters who clearly have more money than me.
Goodwill on 10th – 838 SW 10th Avenue Portland
Goodwill is also unique in the world of thrift in that it is a social enterprise. Goodwill helps people find employment – people of all walks of life: youth, seniors, veterans, immigrants, and people with disabilities, criminal backgrounds and other specialized needs. Their stores fund their employment training and placement programs and my understanding is that people in their programs get employment experience through training in their stores and are paid for their work.
Apparently Goodwill in Portland has a place where you can do what is called “binning” – a place where you don rubber gloves and dive into bins looking for deals. Because I was on holidays with my beloved husband, I did not do this. Next time I go back, I’m taking my mom and my sister and we are TOTALLY DOING THAT.
But this time, I went to this Goodwill. What made this shop stand out was that there was not a hipster in sight. This store would fit in perfectly on Vancouver’s Robson Street. It looks just like a high-end boutique with all of its mint-condition stock beautifully displayed. You could get an $800 Hugo Boss suit for $175. We looked at men’s dress pants that ranged anywhere from $20-$50. Women’s skirts seemed to average $30 each. There was not one cheap thing in the whole store. So while, yes, it is a deal to get an $800 suit for $175 – I still don’t want to pay $175 for a suit. If I’m in a thrift shop, I want to pay $15 for suit. I want to pay $3 for a skirt. (Ya, ya, I know… I spent $15/$17.50 on sweaters… )
So in the end, I didn’t get a whole lot of great thrift deals in Portland but I still had a terrific time there.
What do you think? Am I justified in my complaints? Or am I just cheap? Or am I just a walking contradiction?