Take Goodwill. By opening its 14th and largest store in the Chattanooga area, Goodwill has simultaneously benefited from—and defied—the ravages of a souring economy. Such proliferation attests that thrift franchises are thriving by adopting the more stringent practices of traditional retail. Wide, clean aisles are stocked with carefully culled donations that have been tagged more closely to their presumed value (but are still fabulous finds).
Big Thrift has discovered that higher prices have not been a deterrent to moving items that are always in big demand—records, inexpensive furniture (with fabrics in colors that bring to mind some distasteful body fluid) and any remnants of last year's Christmas paraphernalia.This is not to say that classic second-hand fare has been entirely supplanted, such as the ubiquitous ceramic teddy bear gleefully clutching one or more disembodied hearts.
These business practices, sound and admirable in themselves, have resulted in something of a boom for the industry. But is competition relevant in a trade that aims to serve the poor by trafficking in items that have essentially been stripped of their value? Americans with moderate incomes are slowly crawling out of the chasm after the Great Recession erased 15 years of growth in personal affluence. Still, our “must-haves,” such as fuel and food have increased in price and encroached on our allotments for “like-to-haves,” such as new clothes and dining room tables. As Big Thrift becomes more conscientious about profit motive, the “thrift store” has become less of a safety net for the downtrodden and more of a department store for the shrinking middle class. Not to mention that they are more popular than ever among another of their customer bases: hipsters. As the juggernauts of value elevate their profile, inventory, and clientele, The Pulse decided to check in on several of the area’s independent shops (no Goodwills or Salvation Armies, not that we don’t love you) to evaluate the permeation of big-box strategies and discover just what are the best reasons to visit each.
Bethel Thrift Store, 5135 Hixson Pike, Hixson.
These kids have obviously gotten the memo, as every pricing sign sports an asterisk that warns that tags will be higher for anything of worth. There is even a segregated specialty rack for valuables sporting apologetic notes that explain why the items are worth more (new, designer, collectible, once thrown up on by Keith Richards, etc.). For example, a high shelf on an endcap displays an old, metal Tonka truck for $50 that has an eBay appraisal stuffed inside. This is enormously helpful because, God forbid, a child who doesn't know its value might get hold of the thing and actually try to play with it. You'll find Bethel's selection of records to be quite extensive, provided you have an abiding hatred for anything written after 1932. Success has clearly changed their venerated furniture section; the area is more airy and accessible, with fewer pieces and higher prices. An eerie amount of fashionable formal wear and wedding gowns suggests that Hixson High Princesses do a brisk commerce in dropping off and picking up the same 12 dresses over and over in the three weeks between prom and wedding. The best find here was a bust of a bust—a statue of a serving wench with nothing to further recommend herself than a humbling decolletage.
Second Blessings, 6006 Ringgold Rd, East Ridge.
Second Blessings is currently running a “stuff a bag with clothes for $5” sale which, if two people take them up on it, will completely clean them out of apparel. This may be entirely intentional, since the industrial carpet seems to be soaked with sweat from some manager’s fever dreams of the place becoming a retail furniture outlet. Knickknacks exist only to vary the visual landscape a bit as they bedeck furniture that has been thoughtfully adjusted for inflation, and now costs more than when it was new, regardless of condition. The record collector who doesn't mind dust up to his elbows might fish out a prize catch, since this seems to be the only section of the store that the owners forgot to add zeroes, and they have a surprisingly robust collection of cheap frames that would prove a goldmine for extended families. The best find was a 1993 medical probe with scope, camera, and digital color printing that would be perfect for the dentist who only accepts cash.
The Thrift Store (Children's Home Chambliss Thrift), 3723 Brainerd Rd., Chattanooga.
Points here for “Best Store Name.” Most similar stores specialize (intentionally or unintentionally) in one particular item or another, but this small shop exemplifies the department store mentality. It is far and away the best place to replenish your tableware. The baby section is a great place to abandon your kids while you spend hours in the dressing room convincing yourself that the sizes of this or that designer must run small. Their furniture encouragingly represents the spectrum of fortune with items available for both snoots and scrapers. The Thrift Shop enjoys an inexplicable wealth of new shoes that Imelda Marcos seems to have donated in 1986. The best find was a poster-sized pencil sketch of Angelina Jolie licking her lips that was sorely undervalued at $14.99.
Red Bank Thrift Store, 2102 Dayton Blvd. Red Bank.
This thrift store is appealing in a “dive bar” sort of way, meaning that it's kind of disgusting and that's how you know it's real. The building is horizontally long and segmented into erstwhile exhibits, such as Dishes of the ’70s, Videogames of the ’70s, and People in the ’70s Probably Knew What the Hell This Thing Is. Hipsters looking to double down on their wardrobes will find slim pickings here, as there is less of a focus on clothes and more of a focus on dirty tools. The highlight, however, is the basement torture room for appliances where parts are removed and rejoined in scary experiments. (Not to worry, they all come with a 30-day warranty; if your dryer goes on a murderous rampage down Hedgewood, you get an in-store credit.) The best find was a tub spa attachment covered in a questionable crust that suggests it probably came from the estate of someone who died perfecting a new and unholy use for it.
Northside Neighborhood House Thrift, 209 Minor Street, Chattanooga.
The recently remodeled NNH Thrift, as the kids call it, sports more of a boutique-like atmosphere. By virtue of its part-of-Cherokee-that-can-now-be-considered-West-Frazier location, NNH seems to feel more of a responsibility to be picky in what gets set out for perusal. This is a sound explanation for the dearth of inventory; the 900-square-foot building would threaten to feel cramped were it not for the wealth of negative space. Computers, coffeemakers, golf bags, desks, and dishes are lined up two by two (and no more) and your kids could dart into many of the clothes racks without setting any hangers a-swinging. (Honorable mention: the above comments do not apply to the collection of naked baby dolls with half-closed eyes, which is as large as it is disturbing.) Fortunately, gentrification has no effect on the tags despite the remarkably good condition of the wares; you can still buy their only toaster oven for $3, although a designer label will drive a clothing tag up very slightly. The best find was an ornate old clock with “Tempus fugit” (time flies) emblazoned thereupon—an apt prediction for when its clangy brass bell drives you to throw it through a window.