Thrift Store Shopping: Reap the Rewards of Reuse

Buying home furnishings from flea markets, antique shops and thrift stores is the ultimate green.

| March/April 2006

When you bring home a beautiful antique table, its patina made rich by decades or even centuries of use, your first thought isn’t, “I’m recycling!” When you find a copy of a cherished childhood book at an out-of-the-way rare bookstore, you’re probably not thinking about walking lightly on the earth. Yet in both these cases, you’re traveling in the great circle of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

The antique circuit

Most cities have at least a couple of charity antique shows held in schools, churches or museums. Highlights of these shows often include furniture, meticulously patterned and stitched quilts and “primitives”—the old tools, utensils and handmade implements of America’s rural past. Dealers come from all over the country to set up elaborate booths at these annual events. Don’t be intimidated—even if you’re a novice. The dealers collect and sell out of love for fine old things, and for a few dollars’ admission fee you have access to their expertise.

Don’t buy anything on your first walkthrough. These shows are usually small, with 25 to 50 booths; there’s plenty of time to look, reflect, look again. Remember, your primary purpose at this stage is to learn. These shows will be your benchmark for the merchandise and dealers in less rarefied circles.

There are other kinds of shows: those held on the grounds of historic houses or big, sprawling affairs where bargains abound and dealers rush around to buy from other dealers before daylight breaks. These huge shows, including Brimfield in Massachusetts, are not the place to begin— too overwhelming!

Seek out antique shops and antique malls, big cooperative spaces with scores of booths. Keep the standards of the best shows in mind as you peruse the “collectibles” and “retro” items that may be nothing but yesterday’s mass-market consumer products.

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