Friday, November 17, 2006

My Stuffed Couch: A Thrift Store Find

After carrying a heavy, feather-stuffed couch to my apartment, the delivery men looked out our window and laughed when they spotted an ocean-front tower. The building was quite familiar. That’s because the furniture crew had recently picked up a couch from that ocean-front building and days later crew delivered the same couch to my home.

The previous owners — according to a second-hand account — bought the couch, were allergic to the feathers and promptly donated the item to the thrift store. Spotting the piece during a shopping trip, my husband Avi spent $200 for an almost-new couch that was perhaps worth thousands.

For my husband, an interior designer, thrift shopping is a passion and a profession. The walls of my home are decorated with second-hand paintings; our living space is lit by lamps from thrift stores and our chairs provide second-hand comfort.

Diverse Crowd of Shoppers

And we’re not alone. Driven by frugality, creativity or community spirit, the pool of thrift-store shoppers is as diverse as the furniture and knick-knacks stocked on store shelves.

Shoppers range “from interior designers to the indigent and everyone in between. They approach decorating with fun and generosity,” said Heather Klinker, founder of Grubstake, an organization and thrift store that supports underprivileged families, especially women and children.

The $18,000 Discount

Grubstake offers an unusual showroom of value. Past merchandise includes armoires, tables, sofas and chairs that sell for an average price of $150 to $200. On the higher end, recent sales included a black lacquered Roche-Bobois dining room table and chairs set, featuring inlaid wood base and a glass table top. Grubstake was selling the set for $2,000, which is far below the original $20,000 ticket price.

Deals for a Dollar

Prices drop still lower at the end of every month, when Klinker literally cleans house with a bargain sale. To make room for new donations, most items tables, lamps and other merchandise are priced at $1.

At many thrift stores, merchandise is often scooped up quickly by antique dealers and interior designers. Almost daily, professional shoppers begin their hunt early and are known to make purchases quickly after delivery trucks arrive with donated items, according to several thrift store managers in South Florida. (The merchandise is typically sold as antiques in a prettier setting and a higher price.)

“We have a lot of dealers who come here,” said Terry Mack, store manager of the Douglas Gardens Thrift Store in Miami. “Frequency is the key.”

Tips for Shoppers

To get the most mileage out of thrift stores, he recommends that consumers calculate any cost of reupholstering or refinishing second-hand furniture. It also helps to keep an open mind and to explore alternative uses and placements of furniture in the home.



The Frugal Duchess Boutique

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