Saturday, September 19, 2009

Retail therapy at its best.

I am a thrift store junkie. (I am also obsessed with rummage sales, but in my temperate zone, thrift stores are a more reliable fix.) Becoming an avid “thrifter” thoroughly alters a person’s shopping sensibilities. After spending an hour browsing through an almost unimaginably diverse selection of jeans with prices that could be covered by the change some people find in their couch cushions, it’s almost impossible to go to a mall. The shop windows showcase a small variety of “current trends” at prices that would get you garbage bags full of gently used clothing. And I guess there’s something about the thrill of the hunt that gets inside you. With a little extra work, you can find something unique. Something that has already lived one life, and instead of going into a land fill, is going to live a second life with you in your closet. Thrifting enlivens hunter gatherer instincts. It helps the environment. It saves you money.

But just because I love thrifting, doesn’t mean that I haven’t found a few other places to satiate these urges. I have often touted my local Forever 21 store for feeling like a thrift store, with its tightly packed racks of uniquely trendy clothing. But there’s one store in particular that provides the same bliss of a totally satisfying shopping experience. That is Ikea.

When my grandmother and I were walking through the amusement park sized parking lot up to Ikea last week, she made a very telling comment, “I feel like we’re going to have to pay to get in.” It was not the first Ikea visit for either of us, and we were both treating the trip like a special event rather than an errand. A single shopping excursion with a singular purpose can easily take hours, and result in more than a few unplanned purchases.

Firstly and most importantly, Ikea has beautifully designed, environmentally and socially responsible products at almost unbelievably low prices. We saw these pillows (vacuum sealed to save space in your shopping cart) for 99 cents.

This company has discovered a formula for reducing cost as well as environmental impact. Sure, you might have to assemble that shelf yourself, but by shipping things “flat” they can put more products into a truck or plane, and reduce the carbon emissions of transport. I saw lamps that used their own shades as the container, and lamps that use solar power. These Swedes are talented designers, not just for their practical sensibilities, but for their keen aesthetic understanding.

Wandering the store is like browsing an interactive three dimensional catalogue. I am a sucker for their carefully detailed store displays, where you can go up to a kitchen cabinet, and open in to find real Swedish food products available to buy on the ground floor.

And since you’re probably going to spend hours here, it’s a must to have lunch in their cafeteria. The prices were incredibly reasonable, and the food? Delicious and nutritious, as they say.

And even I thought Ikea had outdone themselves when I heard the announcement that there was a wandering magician on the second floor. We made sure to stop and catch a bit of the show (though my experience with magicians from my time in the circus sort of takes the mystery and thrill out of illusions).

In the end I managed to purchase only what I had come for. Though I did take the time to garnish a great deal of inspiration, and take a great deal of photographs. There was an almost poetic repetition of shapes and colors everywhere I turned. It was just like a thrift store, a vast retail landscape beckoning for me to explore and discover.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Maxwell Street Days

As my grand parents and I drove to Maxwell Street Days last Sunday, I realized that I had been attending this event for at least 20 years. Considering I have only been on earth for a mere 24, and have spent none of that time being a morning person, it is more than a little remarkable. For as long as I remember, I have enjoyed rising at dawn to roam a dusty gravel field inhabited by a sprawling temporary metropolis of strange characters selling precious, precious junk.

My grandmother started the tradition but later my mother’s antique business cemented the trek to Cedarburg among our family traditions. Although I admit I cannot say with utter confidence that I have gone every year, I do know I have gone more than once in a Summer, which I believe makes up for the occasional predisposition to sleep late and miss the fun.

It was at these cluttered tables that I really began to learn the fruitful art of haggling. Although hardly adept during my early attempts (no doubt to my childhood budget clashing with my childhood taste for expensive collector Barbies) I quickly grew the skills, and more importantly, the confidence. Now it is an ever present habit to offer less than the initial price, knowing that dealers almost always account for some wiggle room. Last Saturday I only accepted the price once without question: fifty cents for a the orange metal box of a vintage science kit, in perfect condition!

And although I was sore when we’d finally passed by the last booth, we managed to squeeze a few local rummage sales into the schedule. But not until after breakfast at the local George Webb’s (the food at that location being much better than the ones in Milwaukee). I spent my entire budget of $20, but my bounty was plentiful. And some of the items will prove to make excellent etsy merchandise, including a colorful pile of vintage earrings.

Most of the earrings came in bulk, neatly bundled into two Ziploc baggies. However the second purchase I made that day (barely even a few yards into the grounds) was a single pair of vintage earrings for 25 cents, and the haggard looking gypsy woman said with a thick accent, “You are my first customer, you better bring me luck.” Call me superstitious, but I was a bit intimidated to wonder, what happens if I don’t! She fit right in among the dirt kissed old men wearing overalls and chain smoking hand rolled cigarettes. Other kinds of sellers have slipped into the spaces between the stereotypical antique dealers. Some people set up huge cardboard boxes filled with cheap new items like sponges, bright plastic clipboards, and masking tape. Not to mention the food vendors, the florists, and the middle aged middle America lady crafters with all manner of handmade kitsch.

And of course I found a few figurines to add to my collection. In addition to my usual habit of buying Virgin Mary and Saint statues, I also picked up an adorable plastic fawn that reminded me of an apartment/studio I saw on the Etsy video series: “There's no place like here.”

The whole day was absolutely exhausting but thank goodness I had two days of labor day vacation to follow it. That much shopping requires a recovery period!