Monday, January 18, 2016

Thrift (Shop) Week 2016, Day 2: East Brunswick Goodwill Store

To prepare for my Thrift Week thrift store series, I did a little research into thrift stores in the New Brunswick area. There was one in particular that I was curious about: a funky-looking little vintage store on Hamilton Street called Kru & Krahn. I'd often passed by it on my way through New Brunswick, but invariably, it was closed. Once I made a point of stopping by there on foot during the day, on my way back from a doctor's appointment, but it was closed then too—even though the sign in the window indicated that it should have been open at that time. So I hoped that by doing a little digging, I might be able to find out when this store was actually open and finally get a look inside.

After a quick search, I uncovered an article on local thrift shops from Inside Beat, the Rutgers student magazine. It claimed that Kru & Krahn was open every day from 1pm to 7pm, but I wasn't prepared to take the article's word for it—especially after having recently seen an article on local businesses in our own local quarterly, the Highland Park News, that claimed there was "a great selection of new and used books" at the Author's Bookstore, a store that I knew for a fact had never actually opened. So first I found Kru & Krahn's website, which had information about their mission, pictures of their merchandise, and "trends we admire," but no information at all about where the store was located or what its hours were. However, after clicking a few more links, I found the store's Facebook page, which gave its address and assured me that it was indeed open from 1pm to 7pm today.

So, with Brian, who was off work for the holiday, I drove into New Brunswick around 2pm to check the place out. On-street parking spots in New Brunswick being as scarce as hens' teeth, we parked in the nearest faculty parking lot and made our way across seven city blocks, through frigid air and biting wind...only to find the store with paper over all the windows and no indication of when it had closed or where it was gone. All we knew was that apparently no one had bothered to take down or modify the store's Facebook page.

So, with that particular thrift store no longer available, we decided to go to plan B: a visit to the Goodwill store in East Brunswick. I wasn't as enthusiastic about this, as I'd been to this Goodwill store before and seldom found anything useful, but I figured at least it would allow me to fulfill my mission of visiting one thrift store each day.

When we got there, we discovered that the store was actually running a sale for Martin Luther King Day: 35% off all items (except for blue-tag items, which were already marked down by 50%). The bad news was, apparently word of this sale had reached far and wide, and the store was much more crowded than usual. Not only that, a large percentage of the shoppers were loading up carts with merchandise, and since the narrow aisles can just barely admit one of these carts, it was absolutely impossible for anyone else to get past on foot. So I did a lot of ducking and maneuvering and backtracking to work my way around them. That, and the fact that this store sorts all its merchandise by color rather than by size (which is undoubtedly easier for the workers, but a lot harder for the shoppers), made it really difficult to check out all the merchandise.

However, I did manage, after a lot of twisting and dodging, to dig out several items to try on. Amazingly, there was no line at all for the fitting rooms—although it looked like every single person who'd been in there before me had simply left all their unwanted garments hanging on the pegs or scattered on the floor, rather than going to the obviously overwhelming effort of carrying them back out and hanging them on the rack just outside the door. So I did my good deed for the day by clearing out and hanging up all these discarded garments after I was done.

In the end, I managed to find two pairs of black pants that fit tolerably well. Neither was exactly a great fit, but with the 35% discount, they were only $3.25 each, which seemed to be an acceptable amount to risk. One is a soft, stretchy velour that I figure I can wear for dressy occasions in the wintertime, and the other is just a basic cotton blend that should be okay for everyday wear. So for $6.50, I figure that's not too bad a deal. Of course, we also had to wait about half an hour in the checkout line to pay for them, since naturally the store had no more than its usual number of checkers to deal with the massive sale crowds and their huge loads of merchandise. Brian observed that the store was looking "even more like an unattended garage sale" than usual.

I have to say, after just two days of thrift-shopping, I think I'm beginning to understand why it is that 90% of all the clothes donated to thrift shops go unsold. I mean, here we are, in the middle of a heavily populated area in Central Jersey, and of the six thrift stores I was able to find within a short drive from us, one had a website that left out such minor details as its location, its hours, and, oh yes, the fact that it was closing—and the other is an overcrowded firetrap with unsorted merchandise, insufficient staff, and barely enough room to move. If we can't find a single decent thrift store in an urban area like this, what wonder is it that these stores are faring so poorly nationwide?
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