After picking up fabric to make curtains for his Langley rental, Bob Doyle scours the kitchen wares at Community Thrift Thursday afternoon. - Cynthia Woolbright
After picking up fabric to make curtains for his Langley rental, Bob Doyle scours the kitchen wares at Community Thrift Thursday afternoon.
— image credit: Cynthia Woolbright

Ah, shopping.

For many people, the urge to shop courses through the veins. It’s a primal urge — almost mocking nature in its dog-eat-dog tendencies. It’s survival of the fittest at those shoe sales.

OK, so it’s frivolous. It’s indulgent. But, it doesn’t have to be. There’s a way for it to be guilt free, conscientious and even giving. Thrift stores offer fun, funky and sometimes hard-to-find items on the cheap. Luckily, on South Whidbey there’s no shortage of thrift stores. And thanks to the fact South Whidbey’s stores benefit local nonprofits, there appears no end to the donations coming in or the customers wandering through.

In the two years Kathy McLaughlin has been executive director of Good Cheer, overseeing its food bank and thrift stores, she’s seen donations double. Good Cheer now has two stores and two storage sheds full of donations and is running out of room.

“People love the idea they are recycling, they love that special find and want to support causes such as the food bank,” McLaughlin said. “We have such a throw-away society that people are anxious to respond. To be able to recycle something and have it not end up in a landfill is important to them.”

South Whidbey has become a thrift store haven with four major stores, a smattering of smaller ones such as Second Chance in Freeland and Teens Unlimited in Langley, and even more on North Whidbey.

“The operative in thrift store shopping, whether its at WAIF or anywhere else, is to contribute to the community and also do something for themselves,” said WAIF executive director Leslie Mills. “It’s great because all the different thrift stores represent their own niche in the community.”

Thrift stores aren’t just about clothes and housewares anymore. There’s cards and party supplies. Community Thrift and WAIF have a surprising number of belts. There’s basket upon basket of ties at Good Cheer in Langley. Why buy an expensive department store tie when you can get a trendy sophisticated or wild retro tie for about a buck? The table cloth for your Thankgiving feast could probably be found at Community Thrift, which has a nice selection of linens.

Sporting goods are abundant everywhere — from flippers to cleats, roller-blades to racquets. At Community Thrift you could pick up wind-sailing equipment, at WAIF there was padded Sondico goalkeeper pants for $3 and a Diadora goalkeeper jersey for $2. Play golf? At Good Cheer there was leather riding boots for $25, and a set of golf clubs complete with four woods, six irons and a pull cart for $30.

There’s formals, suits, even wedding dresses at Community Thrift. Good Cheer had vintage brown leather go-go boots with colorful silk paisley lining.

And if brand names and designer labels are your appeal, then thrift store shopping is where you’ll find Tommy Hilfiger, Perry Ellis, GAP, Abercrombie, Perry Ellis, Calvin Klein, Pendleton, Banana Republic and others.

You could buy a car. Two weeks ago Community Thrift received a 1965 Volvo P1800 and it sold the next day. Cars, as well as boats, motorhomes and trailers are a regular donation occurrence at Community Thrift.

You can share in people’s past through the little hints left on thrift store items. Glasses and plates now publicly commemorate special occasions: “Happy anniversary” and “A night to remember, prom 1999.” Everyone now knows little Jimmy created that vase, and someone will now proudly wear someone else’s soccer jersey.

There’s always something new — new arrivals every day.

Good cheer is famed for its 10-cent shoe sales, and there’s often a basket of free stuffed animals for Fido. Community Thrift has clothes out front for 50 percent off. At WAIF you can hop or sing for a discount. WAIF also has dollar Wednesdays and a monthly calendar where every day of the week is has deals, such as a 50 percent discount on red, white and blue items on Veterans Day.

“Visit every day of your life to get all the good deals,” Cohen said. “And if you see something you like, don’t wait to buy it because it will probably be gone the next week, if not the next day.”

The Langley Good Cheer offers a bag of clothes for $5 the first Saturday of the month. Since that day is also the monthly art walk in Langley, all things considered art are 20 percent off.

“You’d be surprised how people convince us, it’s quite fun,” she said.

You can even find great vintage pieces or antiques, but be aware — the stores know what they have and price accordingly, don’t expect all of the items to be at the lowest level of bargain basement.

Keep in mind a few rules of thumb for donations, according to the managers. Is it something you’d want to buy? Make sure it’s quality, gently used. Don’t dump your trash on them.

“Sometimes people think they are giving us items of value to us, but there’s no value in dirty, torn, broken items that we have to pay to dispose of at the dump — it’s expensive,” Cohen said.

And as far as etiquette on further price negotiation, it’s up to the store. At Community Thrift, prices are as marked, at other stores there is sometimes negotiation. Cohen stands by the mission of thrift stores and the prices.

“If thrift stores are flexible in price negotiation, they’d never accomplish their job of serving the community,” Cohen said. “And we need to treat each customer equal. How do you know you’d give the same deal to everyone?”

Janet Moore lives in Langley and works across the street from the Langley Good Cheer. The prices and convenience keeps Moore coming in a couple times a week. With a 6-year-old daughter, Moore said it’s a great place to find affordable clothes that her daughter will most likely outgrow in a few months.

“I like that it’s a charitable organization and that I’m giving back to the community,” Moore said.

Bob Doyle and his wife have lived in Langley for a little over a month, and said that thrift store shopping is their way of making their rental feel like home.

“You can make a house feel like yours with just a few things you can pick up at thrift stores,” he said.

Thursday Doyle had found brass and wood candlesticks that will look perfect on his Thanksgiving table and fabric to create curtains.

“You don’t have to invest a lot to do a lot and it’s great because if you’re in a rental like we are you don’t have to feel bad if you decide to leave it behind,” he said.

McLaughlin, an avid hobby photographer, shops for black frames in which to display her photography.

“Take plenty of time looking around, you never know what you might find, and come often things come and go quickly,” Moore said.

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