Am I a bad customer or a good thrifter?

Am I a bad customer or a good thrifter?

Have you ever seen a cool business idea someone put into action and made work? I’m always following accounts on Instagram of people who buy and sell thrifted items, turning a profit from a lot of hard work. I’ve written about it before and realize the marketing (social media) end of it isn’t for me. It’s a lot of work, and the younger generation has a tight grip on what’s cool and what’s not.

I can sell on eBay, but Instagram and its algorithms mystify me. I don’t have the energy.

Sometimes I feel a twinge. I love vintage decor and thrifted clothing so much it rankles my brain that someone should be able to control what’s trendy or not. Then I remind myself there’s enough thrift stores and items to go around the world 1,000 times. Whatever I like is my aesthetic, and that’s enough. No one can take my weird paintings and frayed jeans away from me.

After leaving Holmes County and daily access to her amazing thrift stores, I decided to embrace the stores in Stark County. I wanted to give them a chance and not just turn up my nose at the slightly higher prices. I’ve been going weekly, and what I’ve found are highly curated stores that are very well stocked. I can slip in and nab several very good tops, maybe a pair of jeans, and last week even some brand-new boots that will work for snow next winter.

The smalls (mugs, knickknacks, et cetera) are organized briskly, and there is a plethora of stuff to dig through. Is it more expensive? Slightly, but you also don’t have to dig through 100 items no one will buy. It’s very hand-picked and well-organized, and I am slowly seeing the worth in this.

I used to redo and resell items at garage sales to stay home with my kids when they were smaller. I was always finding a way to make a little extra. I love to see young moms making it work, making a plan, making money. I understand the sacrifice it takes and the work you put into something that feels like a passion.

The social media world has enabled that even further, and I marvel at the things that are being documented: how to redo curbed items, turning trash into treasure, selecting thrifted clothing into mystery boxes for folks who don’t know how to sustainably find those items.

What I’ve found is I am the picker, not the buyer. I will almost always think to myself where I could find that item for an even cheaper price. Kind of like saying, “We have food at home and I can cook it better.” I don’t track down items in a hasty manner. Is there a book I want to buy that just came out? I will wait until I encounter that book naturally, organically, at the thrift store. It’s how I operate.

Does that make me a bad customer or a good thrifter? I dug through overstock light fixtures at a nearby store and found the light of my dreams that now hangs over my island. Seventeen whole dollars. That light satisfies me in a way a $300 one never could.

I’ve had a picture and frame that hung in several of my houses. I bought the frame for $1 at a garage sale near Quailcrest Farm and the print for 35 cents at Save & Serve. I put them together, and they’ve become one of the most commented on things in my home.

There are pickers and there are buyers. Some people don’t love thrifting but want to live more sustainably. They go to the pickers to source those items. So for me to pay the higher price just doesn’t work. I want to be able to know I bought an item for a low price and sold it reasonably to someone else who wanted it. I am about the thrill of the hunt, the joy of the encounter, the satisfaction of finding a brand-new $40 milk frother for $6. (She now sits in my coffee nook next to the BUNN.)

I am the thrifter, not the thriftee.

I admire the ones who can start a business and make it go, even with thrifted items. Don’t forget the joy and the why that made you begin. Make sure you’re serving the customers and not just your bank account. Don’t get lost. As for me, you’ll find me with my head cocked at some obscure thrift store, reaching for something at the back of the shelf to rescue.

Melissa Herrera is a published author and opinion columnist. She is a curator of vintage mugs and all things spooky, and her book, “TOÑO LIVES,” can be found at For inquiries, to purchase her book or anything else on your mind, email her at or find her in the thrift aisles.

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