I f December marks a time of gifting, January often becomes a time of thrifting. We check our bank accounts, lament our holiday largesse, read about fiscal cliffs or other looming economic perils, anticipate income tax season, and resolve that in the new year we will tighten our belts.
Darn, now we have to buy a belt. That’s where thrifting comes in. Sturdy old belts, ties, shirts, pants, coats and knick-knacks.
There are a slew of thrift shops in the New Haven area. The Goodwill organization alone has stores in New Haven, Hamden, Milford, Orange and Cheshire. Then there’s the Salvation Army , which has a spot right in the center of the city. It’s a block from the Yale art museums, and is a sort of museum unto itself. It’s near a lot of bars and clubs and gathering places, and exemplifies community.
Scott Gilbert is the manager of the Salvation Army Family Store at 274 Crown Street. “There are two types of people who work for the Salvation Army,” he explains. “Those who’ve joined from a religious perspective—it’s an ecumenical Christian organization—or those who work as an employee of the organization.” Gilbert happens to be the latter, and has managed the Crown Street store since last April. His background is in marketing and writing, but he quickly rose to the challenge of managing a thrift store. “I really enjoy it,” he says.
Has he found bargains there himself? He holds out his arms in a behold! pose: “Everything I have on is from Salvation Army.” He’s neatly dressed in a plaid shirt and khaki pants. Many shoppers love the classic styles and older, more durable clothes you can get there: tweed jackets, cotton shirts. Gilbert says he’s partial to “old corduroy pants and twill khakis.”
Clothes are just one aspect of a well-stocked thrift shop. Salvation Army also has furniture, knick-knacks and appliances (many of them brand new, perhaps duplicated wedding gifts that got donated).
Most of the store is given over to its astonishing array of sale items: stuffed animals, shoes, ties, toasters, raincoats, board games, dishes, televisions, framed artworks. But there’s a little room on one side for a manager’s office, warmly decorated with radiator pipes. This is where Gilbert calls the shots and balances the books. The proceeds from Salvation Army stores support adult rehab centers run by the organization, including one on George Street, just a stone’s throw from the thrift shop. The shop also runs a diaper program to assist impoverished parents and a host of social recreation programs.
It can also provide inexpensive amusement and enlightenment for all. One thing thrift stores are particularly good for is maintaining an interest in technologies which have just gone out of style. When compact discs were invented, those who still took their music on cassettes could find a bounty of used tapes which flooded thrift shops. Then, when mp3s superseded CDs, the CD selection at the shops grew and grew. Turntables and LPs have never gone out of style at Salvation Army or Goodwill, introducing whole new generations to the works of Percy Faith, Perry Como, Ferrante & Teicher and other staples of your grandparents’ record collections. Last year, a bonanza of LPs from a once formidable genre—recorded versions of non-musical Broadway dramas by the likes of Harold Pinter, Edward Albee and Samuel Beckett could be found.
At Salvation Army, unemployed people whose wardrobes have withered can afford to dress up a bit for a job interview. Students at the many colleges in the area can furnish their dorm rooms or apartments inexpensively and/or temporarily. Those who need to expand their sense of fashion can get a quick course in retro styles just by browsing a thrift shop rack.
A well-stocked, conveniently located thrift shop is a resource, and also a playground. It’s also a neat reflection of the community which it serves. In the same neighborhood where young folks dress to impress in the newest styles at all the Crown Street nightclubs on the weekends, comfortable used clothes hold court near the corner of High Street. (Another common Salvation Army item that comes in handy when coming down from a night on the town: a coffee mug.)
As long as Salvation Army stores, Goodwill stores and other charity-based thrift shops endure, last year’s fashions will never go out of fashion.
Salvation Army Family Store
274 Crown Street, New Haven (map)
Written and photographed by Christopher Arnott.