One of the best things about traveling away from home by car is the opportunity to spontaneously stop at thrift stores, especially if you have an understanding or like-minded travel companion. Don’t assume that just because you find the shops in small towns that you will automatically find bargain prices. If you found the store while driving, no doubt that’s because it was strategically situated to attract travelers.
We were recently in a small town on the Ohio/West Virginia border to explore the legend of the “Mothman.” We enjoyed a small museum dedicated to the legendary monster, and we also visited several thrift stores on the main street. We found everything from old kitchenware (think Corning Ware) to old toys to crystal to tons of Fiestaware. We fell in love with and bought two Fiestaware bud vases in limited edition colors (Claret and Lapis). We tried bargaining but as sometimes happens, the booth owner had an edict: no price reductions.
Thrift stores can be consignment (like the store we bought our Fiestaware), resale or stores that benefit a charity.
Here are our top tips on thrift store shopping:
- Look for chips or flaws that may be hidden under price stickers.
- Take batteries with you to see if toys work.
- Looking for a specific piece of furniture? Measure before you go, including doorways and the turns of stairways.
- Cut crystal, especially Waterford, is going for bargain prices right now. If you are buying it, do it because you like the piece, not because you are looking to re-sell. Check for chips or cracks.
- Buying vintage candlesticks? Be aware that some newer candles may wobble or just be the wrong size for the candlestick. Tear a piece of aluminum foil to pad it out at the base so the candle is in securely and safely. Make sure the foil doesn’t show.
- Old albums are hot right now — as much as for the music as the graphics of the album cover. It is worth it to thumb through the bins and bins of albums found in nearly every thrift store.
- Starting out in your first apartment? Just bought a house? Remember to look up from the shelves to the walls of the store. Artwork is everywhere. Bonus if you find actual artwork instead of prints.
- While you are looking up, look higher … to the ceiling. Chandeliers and light fixtures can be found for great prices. You may need to have them rewired, but it would be worth it for authentic vintage, midcentury or earlier charm. (Avoid the 1980s brass fixtures. They are not stylish yet and they are everywhere.)
- Don’t buy a smelly or stained rugs or clothing. Sometimes, the smell and the stains can’t be washed out.
- Fake signs, especially tin ones, are everywhere. If they are selling cheap, they probably are cheap.
- Check Kovels.com or Kovels’ Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide to make sure you are getting a great price.
Post-1986 Fiesta bud vases, limited edition colors of Claret (color introduced 2016) and Lapis (color introduced 2013).