The Hidden-in-Plain-Sight Thrift Store Section I Always Make a Beeline For

published Jul 3, 2023
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Interior Of Charity Shop Or Thrift Store Selling Used And Sustainable Clothing And Household Goods
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It’s hard for me to pass up a thrift store. The fact that I never know what treasures await me inside piques my curiosity, and sometimes I just have to give in and stop. As a reseller — I have spaces inside four Virginia antique malls and consign clothing at a curated vintage shop close to home — I’m often on the hunt for great deals. However, I also shop for myself; I purchase most of my clothing and home decor items at thrift stores.

There are times when I’m on a mission, such as a few weeks ago when I had a few minutes to search Goodwill for a boxy linen blazer (it thrilled me that I found one almost immediately!). In that case, I head to a specific section to grab an item on my list. However, if I’m simply stopping by to satiate my need to thrift and have time on my side, I go by a different methodology, which is to peruse the entire store. 

Admittedly, I usually skip a few sections, like children’s clothing, toys, and decorative pillows, but there is one area I hit up first: the put-out racks and bins. At my local thrifting spots, I know how to spot new merchandise on the floor that hasn’t yet been stocked into its section. 

Goodwill generally has housewares, shoes, and smaller items in plastic bins on rolling carts to make it easy for employees to put out. Sometimes I’ll even see a rack of clothing whose pieces need to be integrated into the appropriate sections. Spotting this fresh merchandise is one way to get great deals first. If your thrift store of choice doesn’t have these areas, though, don’t worry — you can still find bargains. Here are a few of my other favorite sections.

Try-On Racks

One person’s castoffs are another person’s treasures — and that rings true for the entire thrift store, but especially the racks outside the dressing room. Perusing these bars means you’re sifting through items someone else vetted and thought were great finds. Of course, they might not be the right style or size, but I’ve often found fabulous pieces of clothing that someone else tried on and didn’t choose to buy. 

Credit: Erin Derby

Books

If you’re an avid reader, you can find great titles for a steal at thrift stores, although you do have to do a bit of searching. I’m primarily on the lookout for vintage children’s books and photo-laden coffee table books, which are relatively easy to spot. I tend to lean toward these to add visual interest to spaces, although I’ve also found a great beach read or two while thrifting.

Credit: ZikG/Shutterstock

T-Shirts

I don’t wear T-shirts often, except for my favorite vintage Bon Jovi one, so I used to pass over them. However, a friend, also a reseller, clued me in on what a treasure trove this section is. She briefed me on how to spot authentic vintage by looking at earmarks like tags, stitching, dates, and brands. Since then, I have made those racks a must. I became obsessed once I found a $120 T-shirt for a mere $2.50!

Housewares

Depending on the thrift store’s level of organization, these racks can showcase sections of plates and toys, or they can be a mishmash of assorted items. Either way, these shelves hold hidden gems, from a retro replacement for your broken mug or a new glass vase to show off some fresh flowers. While perusing, don’t forget to look up high and down low, as these shelves are easy to miss if you’re simply doing a quick scan.

Credit: Jennifer Prince
This cat painting was $35 at a flea market.

Art

My editor doesn’t miss the frame section, and I’d have to agree. It’s the perfect place to find ready-made frames that would otherwise cost a small fortune at an art store. However, I enjoy scanning this section for original art. I’m a sucker for paintings — especially if they’re vintage. My walls are filled with art I’ve purchased for a song. The most I’ve paid at a thrift store for an original work was $12.50 for a piece valued at $400. It’s currently hanging in my living room and is a beautiful reminder of why I enjoy thrifting so much.