The gift of thrift

Local gurus offer tips on when, where and why to go thrift-shopping.

click to enlarge THE HUNTRESS: Artist Susan Janvrin (photographed at Ft. Lauderdale’s Mai-Kai restaurant) is a thrift-shopping champ. - Matt Normand
Matt Normand
THE HUNTRESS: Artist Susan Janvrin (photographed at Ft. Lauderdale’s Mai-Kai restaurant) is a thrift-shopping champ.

Shopping at thrift stores used to be an underground, secret thrill, bordering on seedy. “Where did you get that ugly shirt, at Goodwill?” was a familiar playground taunt. Buying clothes and furniture at thrift stores drew the same level of stigma that, ironically, people attach to today’s monolith of conspicuous consumption: Walmart.

But thrift stores’ reputation improved in the post-Carter recession and Reagan-era backlash. “Thrifting” joined the vernacular as teens skipped school to forage for trenchcoats at second-hand havens like the Kidney Foundation in St. Pete. Goodwills and other thrift stores might not have been as pristine as they are today (more than one Duran Duran fan got head lice from his cheap John Taylor fedora), but thrifters carried on undaunted in their search for uniqueness.

Nowadays, vintage boutiques and resellers (like the ones featured on preceding pages) snag thrift stores’ most valuable items, making those one-of-a-kind finds all the more coveted. While some shoppers throw up their hands in defeat, others continue to fight the good fight for the awesome retro.

One such soldier is Tampa artist Susan Janvrin. Friends and contemporaries regard her as a fashionista and domestic diva, a reputation gained both from her found-material artworks — like the vinyl record mosaics featured earlier this year at the Tampa Museum of Art — and her mind-blowing home makeovers and evening-wear looks. Janvrin can go from a World War II-era hat to white go-go boots in a single weekend. A patient, steely-determined soul, Janvrin braves the nether reaches of the resale world and never tires of weeding through junk for hours.

“I love the adventure and the treasure hunt!” Janvrin beams. “The best is to make a day of it and go rural. I like to map out a route. Pack a lunch — there’s usually no good eats on the rural thrift routes — and bring a friend.”

Where and when to go: “It is sacrilege to publish the word about a good route,” Janvrin divulged, “but since I don’t go much anymore, I will tell you I have found the best stuff on U.S. 19 between Holiday and Hudson. Usually, the shops get stuff in daily, so I don’t think there is any best day to go. I think many people have weekends off and do this on a Saturday, so maybe a Thursday or Friday would be advantageous.”

Jessica Gronewald, a part-time manager at Second Image thrift store in Tampa and proud mom of two, is another local diva with thrifting in her blood. She parlayed her second-hand clothing expertise into a local fashion-upcycle dynasty when she opened Revolve Clothing Exchange with Second Image colleague Kevin Hecht. Gronewald started working in thrift stores at 16, and for the past two decades she has sifted through used items for days on end.

Among Gronewald’s favorite stops is the North Tampa Salvation Army on Nebraska Avenue (near Fletcher). (It’s one of CL’s top picks, too; a visit there recently yielded a suede purse with plastic hoop handle for $6 and a Lord & Taylor leather jacket for $25, along with a nifty aluminum colander for 50 cents.)

“Some thrift stores have 50-percent-off days for all clothing,” Gronewald says. “Salvation Army is every Wednesday. Sunshine Thrift has one 50-percent-off-all-clothing sale day per month. It’s always a different day, but if you sign up for their email you’ll know in advance [signup forms available at checkout]. Second Image Tampa generally has two 50-percent-off days for all clothing every other Wednesday. If you sign up for our email list you’ll get a notification email the day before sale day, and Second Image often sends a repeat coupon with the email so you can get the same sale offer over the weekend — for those who can’t make it on Wednesdays.”

Gronewald also recommends the St. Pete Salvation Army stores on 66th Street near 54th Avenue North and Fourth Street. The Clearwater Salvation Army on Missouri Avenue is no less impressive; recent finds there included a $14.99 Sony DVD player with HDMI capability and a pristine 7-foot-tall bookshelf for just $10. The MacDill Salvation Army store is only so-so, Gronewald says. Perhaps military families don’t leave behind the best quality goods. (Or too many Petraeus groupies spilled drinks on them?)

“There is also this hidden gem called Super Thrift that is in St. Pete on 66th Street North just south of Ulmerton Road,” Gronewald added. “I try to stop in there whenever I have the time.”

Maureen Hudas, a local artist and scenic designer who’s worked at theme parks and resorts with husband Spanky, lives in a remodeled church in Zephyrhills. Both are supreme masters of thrifting. When asked how they cope with thrift stores being picked over by resellers, Maureen said living in a community with a large elderly snowbird population makes for great finds. “I also look for the smaller independently or church-run thrifts that are off the beaten path,” she said. “There are often hidden, overlooked gems in there as opposed to the bigger thrifts like Goodwill and Salvation Army. The prices are usually much better, too!”

What to buy: “For people with children it is probably a good idea to purchase clothing, shoes, toys and books as you can get them for a small fraction of the new retail price,” Gronewald says.

As far as adults go, clothing, shoes, handbags and accessories — like belts, scarves and ties — are recommended. Great housewares can be found as well as eclectic art and unique or kitschy home decor items. “I also almost always find great books, too — for those who prefer to read without a Kindle,” Gronewald adds. She also recommends buying formal wear at thrift shops: “If you need a holiday party dress that you are only going to wear once, you should only consider finding it used.”

Adds Janvrin: “Like many, I draw the line at underwear.”

Why thrift? Apart from the obvious motives of retro fabulousness, it’s good for Mother Earth. “People should buy as much as possible from thrift stores, I believe,” Janvrin said. “It keeps the money local, usually contributes to a charitable cause, helps to avoid pollution caused by the manufacture of new goods overseas, and you can get your own look while saving a lot of money.”

The new second-hand front: Resale boutiques like Revolve Clothing Exchange (with three locations now: 1620 E. Seventh Ave.; 2000 Fourth St. N. and 4023 W. Kennedy Blvd.) and other newer repurposing upcyclers are also great for shopping for fashion inspired by styles through the decades. There’s MISRED Outfitters and Ramblin’ Rose Upcycle (both in St. Pete, in the 600 Block) and, of course, the classic stand-bys: Squaresville, Sherry’s Yesterdaze and LaFrance — Tampa’s longtime royal triumvirate of vintage goods and fashion.

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