The thrift shop ‘treasure hunt’

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By Carolyn Gearig, Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 1, 2014

While most students are asleep at 9 a.m. on Saturdays, LSA sophomore Sara Cusack can often be found trekking across downtown Ann Arbor to the weekly Kiwanis Thrift Sale.

“I don’t typically buy my clothes new, but I put a lot of effort into finding them,” she said. “I like not knowing what I’m going to get.”

Cusack, who buys a majority of her clothing secondhand, is part of a wider culture of students and residents in Ann Arbor who eschew stores like Urban Outfitters and Pitaya in favor of one-of-a-kind, often inexpensive, clothing from thrift and vintage stores.

Open only on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon, Kiwanis, located on the corner of South 1st Street and Washington Street, is Cusack’s favorite Ann Arbor thrift store.

Downtown Ann Arbor has two locally owned vintage shops: Dear Golden and The Getup. In addition, the city is home to several nearby thrift stores: Salvation Army, The Ann Arbor PTO Thrift Shop, Kiwanis Thrift Sale, St. Vincent De Paul Thrift Store and more. Thrift shopping extends beyond clothing at Treasure Mart, a home goods consignment shop in Kerrytown, and The Ann Arbor Reuse Center, which carries donated household items and building materials.

At the Ann Arbor Salvation Army, located on State Street across from the University golf course, store supervisor Jillian Morey-Greer said the store has a distinctly different feel than the five other Southeastern Michigan stores she oversees.

“We have a lot of very trendy individuals that come to this store in particular,” she said. “People who are very individual, very into clothes and very trendy.”

Morey-Greer said she has noticed a distinct culture of secondhand shopping that is unique to Ann Arbor, a result of the University’s influence on the town as well as the influx of students from other areas of the country.

“Our shoppers and product is dependent on the area,” she said. “A lot of people are very into thrifting — and the people who donate items to the store are the people who shop here.”

Thrift Shop
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LSA junior Sola Muno is an Ann Arbor native and a regular Salvation Army shopper, although her favorite Ann Arbor thrift store is the Ann Arbor PTO Thrift Shop, which donates all proceeds to Ann Arbor Public Schools. Muno is also fashion editor for SHEI Magazine, the University’s student-run fashion magazine.

“I’ve been thrift shopping at the same places since as long as I can remember,” she said. “My mom used to take me to the same stores when I was little. I would say my favorites have changed, though, as Value World was my favorite in high school. My style has gotten a lot more polished since beginning college.”

Muno said she thrift shops for most of her clothing because it’s fun as well as cost-effective.

“I love it because it's like treasure hunting — you never know what you will find,” she said. “The feeling when you find that perfect dress or sweater for three dollars makes it all worth it. And it allows me to take risks — I don’t feel bad spending three dollars on something that I love but am not 100 percent sure I can pull off.”

LSA junior Amelia Runco also praised thrift and vintage shopping for being eco-friendly.

“I like to be green,” she said. “It’s good to buy clothes that have already been used — and it’s cool to be wearing something that not everyone else has.”

Along with Cusack, Runco is a frequent customer at The Getup, which is located closer to campus on State Street. Kelly McLeod, shop owner and lifelong vintage lover, opened the store in February 2005 and said the culture of Ann Arbor is a big part of why the store has been open for almost 10 years.

“In any college town, you’re going to have people thinking outside the box and people who want to shop green,” McLeod said. “You’re going to have people who are funky, artsy, who want something different. This town really loves secondhand, reusing, the green aspect of it, which is really exciting. Even if it isn’t vintage, I love that people want to buy secondhand.”

The Getup specializes in clothing from the 1940s to the 1970s, although the store also carries items from the 1980s and 1990s. Clothing is purchased from estate sales or individuals who bring in items or arrange for an appointment, and ranges in price from 20 dollars to several hundred dollars. Students make up nearly half of customers.

“What helps with Ann Arbor is that there are so many transplants,” McLeod said. “Students are here from New York, LA, Seattle, places where vintage is really big. They expect these sort of stores.”

Thrift Shop
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Cusack, who described her style as “retro,” said she enjoys vintage shopping in particular because of the history behind the clothes.

“I like my clothes to have a history,” she said. “It sounds kind of silly, but I think it’s really cool to try and imagine who used my clothes before I did, and think about how they might have a different purpose in my life than they did in someone else’s. It’s like a second life for clothes.”

In a house on Detroit Street in Kerrytown, a variety of other items get a second lease on life. The Treasure Mart has been family-owned for 54 years, and is one of several secondhand stores carrying household items. Owned by Elaine and Carl Johns, the two-story consignment shop carries furniture, household items, kitchenware, books and more, with a small vintage clothing and shoe section. People consign their items and receive 65 percent of the item’s sale price once it is sold.

“Well, all cities probably have consignment shops, but I don’t think there are too many quite like The Treasure Mart because we get such a wide variety of things because of the University and the hospital,” Carl said. “We have a fellow that comes from Cleveland once a month to consign. People come from all over Southeastern Michigan and Ohio to shop here.”

He said The Treasure Mart is even nationally known — while on vacation in Montana several years ago, the Johns stopped by an antique store. The shop owner asked them where they were from.

“When we mentioned The Treasure Mart, she said, ‘Oh, the Treasure Mart! I go there every couple of years,’ ” Carl said. “People from all over know The Treasure Mart.”

The Treasure Mart is not only known nationally, but it has a huge local presence as well. Lauren Naimola opened Dear Golden, a curated women’s vintage clothing shop on 4th Avenue in April. In the spirit of reuse, she furnished the store with items from The Treasure Mart.

Thrift Shop
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A University graduate, Naimola started her store on Etsy in 2008 and found widespread success, leading to a workshop and appointment-only location in Ypsilanti three years later and a full-scale store this year. Although 80 percent of her sales come from Etsy, Naimola said Ann Arbor was an ideal location for their new brick-and-mortar operation.

“I think there’s a great market for it,” she said. “There (aren’t) enough stores like this. There’s obviously not going to be another one just like (Dear Golden), but I think there are a lot of restaurants and not enough shops.”

Naimola said her shoppers come from across the Midwest and range in age from 15 to above 60. Although the shop is, on average, slightly higher priced than The Getup, she hopes to gain a student following since she opened at the end of the school year.

“It’s not on campus, but students I’ve noticed are getting used to coming into town and using the town more,” she said. “When I went to school here, it was like no one went to Main Street, and I see now more and more younger girls coming to Main Street.”

Although secondhand stores exist all over, students and residents alike praised Ann Arbor’s unique culture.

Cusack said a lot of her friends she met at the University are into secondhand clothing, more so than at home near Grand Rapids.

“I would definitely say there is a thrift and vintage shop culture here,” she said. “I’ve met a lot of people who get excited about super great deals with you, and people who are willing to wake up at 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning to go thrift shopping with you. The challenge of finding something is fun for me.”