For these thrifting friends, it’s the ‘thrill of the hunt’

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 10, 2014

Ever heard of thrifting?
Me neither, until my friend Susan Stubbs told me about it. We’ve known each other forever. We grew up together and spent our summers at the pool. Still do.
One day last week, Susan said, “Come thrifting with us!”
She explained that a group of her friends from Knox Middle School, where she teaches sixth grade, goes thrifting at least three times a year. They visit area thrift stores, in search of bargains. Some of them make lists, some don’t. They just wanna see what’s out there.
“It’s the thrill of the hunt,” Susan said.
It sounded like fun, so I agreed to go with them on their next expedition.
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It’s pouring down rain Friday morning when we all meet at Panera Bread. Over cups of steaming coffee, Renee Cunningham explains how this all works.
“Are you the ringmaster of this circus?” I ask Renee.
She laughs. “No, I’m the tour guide.”
She plans the trips. Sometimes the women go to Mooresville. Other times, they head to Winston-Salem. That’s where we’re going on this particular morning.
“We usually have to take more than one car,” Renee says. “My dream is to rent a van and us all go together.”
Today’s first stop, Renee says, is a large Goodwill complex in Winston-Salem. It has a jobs center, retail side and outlet side. At the outlet side, she says, you pay by the pound.
“That really throws people at first,” she says.
I would soon find out why.
The next stop would be to Mega Thrift — another thrift store, obviously — then perhaps to the Habitat Re-Store.
The group takes these trips in summertime, at Veterans Day and at spring break. Most work or have worked at Knox. Renee, for example, now works at Knollwood Elementary School in the media center.
Two others are in this morning’s group. Ginger Thockmore teaches at Knox. Paula Hodges is a teacher assistant at Hurley Elementary School. She and Susan used to teach preschool together.
“We’ve had two people ditch us,” Susan says coming in the door, so the morning’s group is complete. Anywhere from four to eight women go thrifting together.
They all agree with what Susan said about the “thrill of the hunt.”
“My whole house is from thrift stores,” Paula says. “Furniture, clothes, kids’ clothes. I can’t afford to shop any other way.”
“It’s my hobby,” Renee says.
The women agree that there used to be a stigma associated in shopping with thrift stores. Not so much anymore.
“Our students think it’s cool now,” Paula says.
“I think there are closet people who go thrifting and they don’t want to admit it,” Renee says. “We have no shame.”
Susan is not embarrassed to shop at thrift stores at all, and often tells anyone who will listen how much she paid for the outfit she’s wearing.
“We love it!” Susan says. “It’s very addictive.”
Susan is always on the lookout for Ann Taylor dresses and skirts. She likes wearing skirts or dresses to school, because they’re comfortable and because she thinks it looks more professional.
Ginger says she tends to look at everything, but especially targets jewelry and anything that can be repurposed.
Renee looks for J. Crew clothing, Chico’s for her mom and Target brands.
“We always find some kind of treasure,” she says.
The person who uncovers the most unusual find wins Renee’s “thrifting stick,” a short stick with a bell and ribbon attached. You know how creative teachers are.
All of the women tend to pass things along, and Susan and Ginger especially switch out whatever they find on the most recent trip for what’s in their closets currently.
“Our goal is not to be on ‘Hoarders,’” Renee says.
Renee, Paula and Ginger set a budget for each trip, while Susan swipes her debit card throughout the day.
The ground rules established, we set off in two cars toward Winston, arriving at the Goodwill complex first.
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It’s still raining when we get there, so we make a run for it. We arrive on the outlet side first — a huge room full of rows of giant blue bins. Yep, you guessed it. We’re gonna have to dig through each one. I notice some of the shoppers are wearing gloves. I wish Susan would have mentioned that.
The four women each grab a shopping cart. Susan and Paula even count “3-2-1” and race off down one aisle. They soon spread out all over the store. The only way it’s organized is clothing on one side and housewares on the other. Good luck finding something.
But these women are good, you have to remember.
Susan was brought up in a thrifty mindset.
“We always shopped at the J.C. Penney clearance rack,” she says. “And I was 16 before I realized that everybody’s sheets didn’t have streaks and marks, because Daddy worked at Cannon Mills and we shopped in the basement of the Cannon Mills store!”
There are no dressing rooms on the outlet side, so Susan says you just had to guess if something fits you. If not, it’s no big deal — she just passes it along.
After an hour, the women’s buggies are about half full. Renee has a white sweater, a black top, a peach basket and some paperbacks. Susan has a pair of Old Navy jeans and a red Elle top. Ginger has a nifty wooden box, a hunting shirt for her adult son, denim shorts and a top for herself.
“I didn’t find as much as I thought,” Susan admits. “We’ll find more on the other side. There’s more of a selection, plus you can try on over there.”
“This is just our warm-up,” Renee explains.
“This is our appetizer for the day,” Susan adds.
Paula starts going through her cart, which has all clothes. She tries on an oversized brown cardigan, which I know has cashmere in it. She’s got two dresses, six tops, a pair of jeans and a pair of pants. She generously gives me a black draped Coldwater Creek top I’ve been eyeing the whole morning. I try it on and they ooh and aah about how slimming it is. At checkout, it costs me 70 cents.
Renee’s total is $5.05, Susan’s is $1.64, Ginger’s is $7.47 and Paula’s is $5.64.
We ferry our bags to the car, then hit the retail side. Susan goes straight for the dresses. Last time, this is where she found 10 dresses for $50. Ginger steers over to housewares and Renee and Paula also spread out.
In no time, Susan’s cart is piled high with dresses. The other three are also having good luck. After just two hours of thrifting, I am pooped. I tell the group I’m hitting the road but to report in later.
We’d left Panera that morning at 9. Twelve hours later, Renee texts me a photo of them having dinner. They’d just finished up. Ginger won the thrifting stick for finding a mink stole — the kind that has the whole animals on it. The next day, she went back and bought it.
She will decide what the challenge will be for winning the thrifting stick on Veterans Day.
Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.