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Cheap! Thrilling! Eco-friendly! An insider’s guide to thrifting in the Valley 

  • Not all thrift stores are created equally, counsels Suchodolski. The Cancer Connection Thrift Shop revealed leather sneakers from Paris and the kind of glamazon red trench Sigourney Weaver might have worn in “Working Girl.” STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Veronica Suchodolski tries on a coat at the Cancer Connection Thrift Shop in Northampton on Wednesday, March 20, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Vinyl records for sale at the Cancer Connection Thrift Shop in Northampton. Photographed on Wednesday, March 20, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Nancy Case is the manager of the Cancer Connection Thrift Shop in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • No plastic, here: Racks of glassware and china are displayed at the front of the Cancer Connection Thrift Shop in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • A patron of the Cancer Connection Thrift Shop browses the racks of glassware and china lit by a large window at the front of the Northampton store on Wednesday, March 20, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Racks of glassware and china are displayed at the front of the Cancer Connection Thrift Shop in Northampton. Photographed on Wednesday, March 20, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Veronica Suchodolski and her friend Raphe Gilliam browse through postcards at the Cancer Connection Thrift Shop in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Donated clothing is sorted upstairs at the Cancer Connection Thrift Shop before making its way to the racks. STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Non-clothing donations are sorted in the drop-off room at the back of the Cancer Connection Thrift Shop. STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • A selection of kids shoes at the Parson's Closet in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Assorted jewelry for sale at the Parson's Closet in Easthampton. Photographed on Wednesday, March 20, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Baskets of hangers, used, re-used and waiting to be used again, at the Parson's Closet in Easthampton. Photographed on Wednesday, March 20, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Raphe Gilliam makes a purchase at the Parson's Closet in Easthampton on Wednesday, March 20, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Blouses at the Parson's Closet in Easthampton. Photographed on Wednesday, March 20, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Wendy Taylor-Jourdian says the Parson's Closet helps support the Easthampton Congregational Church’s food pantry. STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Wendy Taylor-Jourdian, center, with the Parson's Closet, helps Raphe Gilliam with a purchase at the Easthampton thrift shop on Wednesday, March 20, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

For Hampshire Life
Published: 5/2/2019 4:30:09 PM

If you ask Larry White, who is the franchise owner of Plato’s Closet in West Springfield, there’s a lot to love about thrift shopping. Obviously, there are the deals — it’s hard not to be swayed by the idea of getting a designer item for less than half of the retail price. Then there’s the fact that thrift stores support the local economy and create jobs for residents.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly these days, there’s the environmental factor. Fast fashion — the phenomenon where inexpensive clothing is produced rapidly in response to changing trends, leading to clothes getting thrown out after a single season — amounts to an average of 77 lbs of textile waste per person per year in the U.S. Because of this, along with factors such as chemical use in cotton production and water pollution from dyes, the fashion industry is one of the largest industrial polluters in the world. Thrift stores recycle your unwanted items, creating an environmentally-friendly option for those of us who like to change out our wardrobes every season.

If you’ve never been thrifting, you might think that thrift stores are where you go to buy drab old t-shirts, outdated kitchen appliances or one of the surprisingly common DVD copies of Agent Cody Banks. I used to have this attitude, too. It wasn’t until I got to college that I started getting more interested in thrifting, thanks to a trendy roommate who had thrifted almost everything to her name. Intrigued, I outfitted my dorm kitchen at a nearby Salvation Army, and the rest is history.

However, not all thrift stores are created equally. To help you figure out where to go for everything from sofas to fine Parisian shoes, I give you an inside scoop on how to thrift like a pro.

For ‘80s vintage awesomeness

Cancer Connection Thrift Shop — 375 South St in Northampton

Stepping into Cancer Connection Thrift Shop feels like stepping into a John Hughes movie. The shop has high ceilings and big windows that let in a lot of natural light. The stereo is playing Motown or ‘60s pop. The clothes have a vintage vibe, like what Molly Ringwald might wear if she were your cool aunt — think embroidered floral skirts, a breezy button down shirt with martini glasses printed on it and a maxi-length red trench coat. There’s also a nice collection of records, cassettes and CDs in the back to round out your ‘80s aesthetic.

The profits from this thrift store support Cancer Connection, a nonprofit in the Valley that provides a variety of services — everything from support groups to harmonica workshops — to cancer patients and their families free of charge. Most items fall in the $3-$20 range, although some are more expensive. For example, a pair of brand new leather sneakers from Paris that retails for $150 can be yours for $50. The store has been known to get Manolo Blahniks and Jimmy Choos, so these prices are often still a steal.

“The hunt for rare items of value is exciting, but kind of scary as a thrift shop manager,” said Nancy Case, who manages Cancer Connection. “I can no longer watch Antiques Roadshow. I think, ‘Oh no! Didn’t we just sell one of those for $3?’ ”

Items go out every day and are on a four-week rotation for what color tags are on sale. If something sits for more than a month, it goes half price. Plus, if you drop in on Thrifty Thursdays, everything in the store is half off. Case has this advice: “If you’re shopping and you see something you like, grab it because it will likely be gone by the end of the day.”

For (real) jewelry, furniture and romance novels

Savers — 1277 Liberty St in Springfield

Picture this: The year is 2005, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston have just filed for divorce and you’re in a Marshalls. That’s what Savers feels like — in a good way. It’s the classic thrift store. There’s a huge collection of clothes under $10, mostly in neutral tones like beige, navy and forest green, and you’d have to sift through a lot of unknown brands before you found an Ann Taylor or a Banana Republic in the mix.

The furniture and home department is where Savers really shines. You can buy a nice sofa for $50, a loveseat for $20 and anything from dressers to armchairs to shelves for under $10. They have a surprisingly large collection of bedsheets and a good number of matching sets of dishes. Looking for entertainment? Browse the hundreds (seriously) of romance novels lined up on the shelves in the back, or else choose something from their big selection of board games and DVDs.

According to one of the store’s managers, Lara Dumas, Savers puts out new items every day except Mondays. For her, the store’s best section is jewelry. “We get a lot of silver and white gold, we get really good stuff,” she said. Donations go out on the floor almost as soon as they’ve been received, so it’s worth it to put Savers in your regular thrifting rotation to catch the best items.

For the young – and young at heart

Plato’s Closet — 1472 Riverdale St in West Springfield

When you walk into Plato’s Closet, the radio is playing Top 40 hits, there are displays modeling the latest trends and it smells more like a floral teen perfume than that classic thrift store must. It’s also a little more expensive, with many items falling in the $10-$15 range. This has more to do with the brands that they carry since the items are usually 50-70 percent off retail.

Plato’s caters to a younger crowd, carrying brands like Forever 21, Hollister, Vince Camuto, H&M and Vineyard Vines. This gives the store a trendy vibe, featuring lots of bright colors and patterns. Some of my favorite finds were a t-shirt patterned with pineapples, a pair of bright orange stilettos with yellow lemons on them and a black denim jacket with a cheetah fur lining.

According to White, the biggest draw of Plato’s is the volume. “We never put a restriction, we don’t stop buying,” White said. “We buy all seasons all day and every day.” This means that the store has a huge back room that they can draw from, putting out new items every day. On the day I was in, White told me that they had 10,000 tank tops and 7,000 dresses in storage. “You could have come in yesterday and you’re going to find new items,” White said.

Another stand-out feature of Plato’s is their Instagram. There, employees post pictures of items currently out in the store and potential buyers can comment on the photo to hold the item to the end of the day. This way, you can monitor their best items without making the trip to West Springfield too often.

For holiday decor galore

The Parson’s Closet — 116 Main St in Easthampton

The Parson’s Closet is aptly named. It’s housed in what used to be the Easthampton Congregational Church’s parsonage, and the narrow racks lining the house make it feel like you really might have stepped into someone else’s closet. The shop opened 14 years ago when the church’s reverend chose to live in Amherst, leaving the parsonage empty. The thrift shop was founded in the space as a way to give back to the community. All of the proceeds from the thrift shop go to the church, which in turn funds things like community dinners and their food pantry.

“A lot of people like donating here because they know they’re giving back,” said the thrift store’s manager, Wendy Taylor-Jourdian. And, of course, the inexpensive clothing provides a service to the community as well, offering clothes for all seasons under $7. “I have my customers who would be in a world of hurt if we weren’t here,” Taylor-Jourdian said.

The mix of items at Parson’s is pretty eclectic. A lot of the clothes here feel like what you might see your mom wearing on her day off, but if you look long enough you’ll find some gems, like a bright yellow Ann Taylor blazer that could become your new Sunday best. There’s also a big selection of holiday decorations, including a closet full of Christmas decor in storage for next winter. Given that the thrift store accepts donations 24/7 through an exterior drop-off bin, items like these come in daily.

“We get all kinds of crazy stuff, so nothing surprises me,” Taylor-Jourdian said.

For corduroys and a rainbow’s worth of housewares

Salvation Army — 310 Russell St in Hadley

Salvation Army is Savers’ adult older sibling. The Salvation Army in Hadley is spacious and bright and a little more expensive than Savers, lending an edge of class to this staple thrift store. Salvation Army is the great equalizer of thrift stores. It isn’t specially curated to fit a certain aesthetic, and yet it has a high volume of quirky items to make you feel like the coolest person at the costume party. Clothing items range from a hat plastered with peacock feathers, a pastel rainbow camouflage sweater and polka dotted corduroys. In fact, those who follow the latest trends will be glad to hear that this store had a whole rack of corduroy pants in different colors since they’re back in style. Whether you’re looking for a pink cowboy hat or a simple black t-shirt, the Salvation Army has what you need.

This store gets a gold star for home decorations. Their housewares are laid out by color in a way that’s very aesthetically pleasing, placing the red and white striped piggy bank next to the Jelly Belly candy dispenser and the purple whisk next to the small painting of hyacinths. The whole back wall of the store displays a number of paintings of different sizes. Plus, they have a nice selection of sofas, TVs and armoires for around $50.

For polished workwear

Fisher Home Hospice Shop — 6 University Dr in Amherst

The Fisher Home Hospice Shop recently relocated to a larger retail space to accommodate its growing selection of secondhand clothing. The store feels more like a boutique than a thrift store, with carefully curated displays and a spacious sitting area for browsing their collection of used books.

The clothes at Fisher belong mostly to mid-tier professional brands. A browse down one rack reveals clothes from Lands End, Liz Claiborne, Eddie Bauer, Coldwater Creek and Talbots, usually for only about $5. The clothes feel more curated than the other thrift stores on this list — this is definitely the spot to go if you’re looking for classy button-downs, practical skirts, and a dress you could wear to a well-to-do garden party.

All proceeds from the shop help to support the Hospice of the Fisher Home, a non-profit hospice program that serves all of Western Massachusetts.

Veronica Suchodolski is an Amherst native and a graduating senior at Barnard College of Columbia University. Follow her on Twitter @suchveronica.

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