• Publisher’s Blog: Pacific Grove: Home of Monarchs, Victorians and Thrift Stores

    Yet another second-hand store has approached the Powers That Be about the possibility of opening a store in Pacific Grove. And they have been sent on their way yet again. Sally Ann apparently isn’t welcome in PG. Or is she? When does Used Stuff become an antique. . .or even Lovely Junque? Who buys that stuff anyway?

    Back when middle school was called junior high school and I was in it, I lived in Waukesha, Wisconsin. It was a small city of 30,000 then, with one junior high and two high schools – the public one and the Catholic one. Today, the population is pushing 70,000 and there are five high schools and three middle schools. Important people came from Waukesha: Les Paul, Steve Miller, and Donald Goerke, for example. Who’s Donald Goerke? He invented Spaghetti-Os.

    The center of activities for the town back then was the high school, at least the part that was called “South Campus.” A new (then) sprawling complex of buildings, it included a huge auditorium. We went to travelogues there on Sundays during the winter. There were musicals, and the City Symphony (now a philharmonic) played there. There was an indoor pool (hey, it gets really cold in Waukesha) and a wonderful gym (they called it a field house) that seated 3000 on two levels, and where boat shows and expositions were held as well as basketball games.

    One of the activities many of us looked forward to each year was the Symphony Fair, a fund-raiser that took place in the field house. The very best part was what seemed to me to be acres of white elephant sales. It was my first exposure to Used Stuff.

    Piles of books, lamps, tools, dishes, clothing, hats and shoes . . . and all of it nice because it had been donated by the Symphony Auxiliary and those were wealthy ladies who still wore gloves and hats when they went to lunch with their friends. And all of it cheap because they didn’t want to haul it home.

    My friend, Susie and I each received 50 cents a week in allowance. We also babysat – 35 cents an hour before midnight and 50 cents after, no bonuses for changing diapers and part of the job included emptying the ubiquitous dehumidifiers most homes had lurking in the basement. With that glorious salary, we could buy amazing amounts of Used Stuff for pennies on the dollar. We’d make up what we thought were outrageous outfits and parade around town till the fun wore off. Sometimes it was a zoot suit, sometimes we did Hedda Hopper with big hats. We’d go back a second day and get a 1940’s suit and pretend to be Ingrid Bergman. No one ever asked for our autograph, but we had a good time.

    At some point, I supposed we’d have outgrown the dress-up phase and gone for serious shopping, but my family moved to California and the Symphony Fair became a memory.

    But I never got over the thrill of rooting through mounds of Used Stuff. There was Ed’s Square Deal in downtown San Jose, the Salvation Army (Sally Ann to those in the know) and the odd garage sale. No white elephants in California, but there was the king of them all, the San Jose Flea Market.

    I furnished my room at the sorority house and then my first apartment with Used Stuff. Mismatched plates, broken jewelry I learned to repair, a yellow rocking chair that someone had applied fake antiquing to back when that was popular, musty smelling books that I thought made me look well-read. The bulk dry cleaner guy gave me frequent customer discounts. The amazing part – to me anyway – is that I still have some of that Stuff. And I still go hunting at thrift stores.

    Before the summer weekend home became a year-round residence, my trips to PG always included a reconaissance of the thrift stores.

    I have my little circuit, I know which racks might have things for me, and even when I’m on a mission for something in particular, I keep my eyes open for serendipity.

    I tend to look at the prices as sort of a rental fee, because I feel a lot less guilty about giving it away if I didn’t pay very much for it. I can redecorate on a regular basis and still be able to afford groceries.

    I’ve been to thrift stores in Dublin and London and Paris (oo la la, les flea markets!). I have a scarf I bought for half a Manx pound that saved me on a misty race day on the Isle of Man. I even found a Sally Ann in Hong Kong – talk about cheap!

    I wish I could brag about finding treasures, but today the donations are very carefully examined and professionals scout the thrift stores on a regular basis, so there’s small chance of turning up hidden antiques or collectibles, but it does happen. Two week ago, a friend and I went to a thrift store together looking for a gate for my office. You see, there’s a step and people fall off it on a regular basis. I thought if I had a gate there, they’d pay more attention.

    Well, I didn’t find a gate. My friend, however, turned up three first edition books at $1 each and which she researched out at $325 (for the lot) when she got home. I got a trivet with only three legs, shaped like a lobster and covered with something sticky. But it was only 35 cents.

    The downtown Business Improvement District in Pacific Grove is on a perennial search for businesses to move to Pacific Grove and fill up some of those empty spaces. Now and then, a thrift – or resale, or consignment – store expresses interest in moving to the hallowed streets of PG, but for some reason they are discouraged from doing so. I think there’s an element that’s embarrassed by all the second hand stores here. But if one were to hang out at the store directory (which by the way looks pretty tatty and is in sore need of updating) by the rug store that used to be the Dyke’s drug store, one would realize how many people come to town just to go to our second hand stores. They ask for directions and I have a regular little spiel I give. Know why they come here? Same reason I used to love the Symphony Fair in Waukesha. There’s a perception that wealthy people live here and give away Good Stuff. If only they knew.




    posted to Cedar Street Times on May 1, 2010

    Topics: Current Edition, Front PG News


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