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Secondhand Savvy

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Bargain shopping is one thing, but area thrift shoppers say some truly fantastic finds are to be had when you shop secondhand and antique stores.

Long before rap artist Macklemore’s hit single “Thrift Shop” hit the Billboard Hot 100 late last year, Columbus resident Jenny Nelson had discovered the wonder of thrift stores.

“I think, for me personally, it is a matter of convenience and budgeting,” the 38-year-old said.

Nelson discovered thrifting in 1997 after she graduated from college and moved to Chicago. Excited about what could be accomplished on a budget, Nelson’s treasure hunting began.

During the past 15 years, she’s never paid more than $40 for an item, and that was for her vintage sofa. Among her most valued finds is a vintage Gucci coat she bought for 50 cents.

“I carried it around a lot,” Nelson said. “And it is starting to wear down, so it stays in my closet quite a bit.”

Nelson, a human resource associate for Cummins Inc., cautions those new to thrifting not to expect to hit a gold mine the first time around.

“I think there is a strategy to it,” Nelson said. “It takes practice to develop an eye for things.”

Allow yourself plenty of time to look around on your first thrift-shop adventure, Nelson said. Minimize your distractions by shopping alone, look for quality items and leave no hanger or item unmoved, she said.

Denise Pence, who owns Exit 76 Antique Mall with her husband, Gregory, said antique malls and thrift shops weren’t a destination for the average shopper a few years ago. But people are more cognizant these days about getting more for their money, she said.

“We are getting the younger people now,” Pence said. “They’re coming in to get clothing, accessories and housewares at a bargain they can’t get at box stores.”

Vintage is among the most-sought-after items simply because young people want that one item they know no one else is going to have, Pence said.

The middle-aged crowd still shops for value, with an interest primarily in supplementing various collections, from coins to dishes and figurines. But they’re also selling.

“They’re definitely selling what the younger person wants,” Pence said. “It’s come full circle, where the old meets young and the young meets old.”

Chicago native Rebeca Martinez moved to Columbus in 2006 and said she purposely sought out secondhand stores.

Having always enjoyed thrift-store shopping, Martinez opened Good Deals on Cottage Avenue in 2009.

“At that time, it was hard to find good deals at a good price,” she said. “The recession had hit, and people were cutting back.”

She introduces new items into inventory twice a week and said it’s a matter of offering customers name-brand, quality merchandise at an affordable price.

Martinez said her clientele ranges from professionals to college students.

“As long as the customers are happy, I’m happy,” she said.

Insurance agent Cindy Clay regularly shops at Good Deals, Goodwill and Sans Souci and said thrifting is all about finding treasure. The 56-year-old said she is always on the hunt for items not everyone else will have.

Often looking for name-brand items, such as Christopher & Banks, Clay said you’ll often find things that are new with the box store’s price tags still on them.

Guessing about 60 percent of her wardrobe comprises thrift-store finds, Clay said she loves it when strangers ask her, “Where did you get that outfit?”

One of her recently acquired treasures is an orange Andrea Viccaro jacket she found for $4. The most she’s ever paid for a single clothing item was $10, she said, and that was for a full-length teal trench coat.

On average, most antique and thrift shops rotate their merchandise and add new items daily.

Shila Gearhart, Goodwill’s store manager in Columbus, said an estimated 5,000 new items are added to her store’s inventory each day.

“Some people make it a point to come in two and three times a day as we put out new items,” Gearhart said.

Nic Nicoson, general manager of the Exit 76 Antique Mall in Edinburgh, said the average shopper meanders through the mall’s more than 500 booths for three or more hours and spends $60 to $1,000 in a single visit. He’s sold everything from jewelry to housewares and clothing.

An enamel-glazed spittoon is definitely among the oddest purchased items to pass through the mall’s doors, Nicoson said. But it’s the stories about the items that often stand out.

Nicoson recalled a woman who stood in line for nearly 45 minutes near closing time to purchase a single book.

“I told her, ‘That must be a very special book,’” Nicoson said. “She said, ‘This was my book in grade school; I have to have it.’”

Guessing the woman to have been in her 60s, Nicoson said, she opened the book and showed him where she’d written her name as a young girl.

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