Finders, keepers

Scouring for quality used-goods in Chico

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When Christina Ulsh was a kid, she went to a yard sale and was drawn to a vintage mustard-yellow lamp. She had to have it, so she forked over a couple of bucks and brought the old thing home.

“My parents thought it was the most hideous thing, but I loved it,” she recalled, during a sunny Saturday while drinking iced coffee at Empire Coffee, the train-car café in the south-campus neighborhood.

Then a funny thing happened. Her father, while inspecting its repair job, realized he knew that lamp. That’s because it was in his house when he was a kid.

Ulsh was just 9 when that happened, but her serendipitous find left a lasting impression. She really liked items from bygone eras, and today, after years of honing her tastes by perusing yard sales, estate sales, antique stores and thrift shops, the 23-year-old Ulsh looks mostly for specific mid-20th-century items.

Aside from a new television and her computer, nearly every gadget, piece of furniture and décor in her home is vintage Atomic and Danish-modern. To envision this, think of the home of television’s The Jetsons, she explained.

Ulsh started thrifting when she was about 13, and while these days she is on the lookout only for vintage finds that fit her current sensibilities, she knows the ins and outs of the scene for everything from art and furniture to clothing and entertainment. One of the great things about Chico is that it has so many places to find affordable odds and ends, even on a college student’s budget.

During a recent mini tour of the scene, concentrating on the places closest to the student neighborhoods, Ulsh—who locals may recognize from playing in Chico bands The Hambones and The Shankers—first headed to Orange Street Consignment, a 15,000-square-foot shop along the train tracks. The warehouse is home to an extremely eclectic collection of items, from gorgeous hardwood antique dressers and other well-kept furnishings to odd pieces such as a taxidermy boar’s head and an approximately 12-foot-tall (anatomically correct) Roman-style statue.

“I could spend hours here just admiring stuff, but I mostly scan shelves,” said Ulsh, who handled a number of things at Orange Street but purchased nothing on this day.

The next stop was Elite Repeat, the Salvation Army’s upscale store at Seventh and Broadway. There, she headed straight to the bric-a-brac section, an area with all manner of antique collectibles, dishes and doodads. She picked up a ceramic cat figurine as well as an old plastic RCA Victor radio, explaining how she’d like to paint it to make it a decorative piece. Minutes later she lit up after spotting a couple of cool vintage can openers but, on closer inspection, realized they were missing some parts.

She promptly put them back on the shelves, giving this advice when it comes to purchasing something old: “Make sure it’s complete,” she said. “Don’t bring home a project unless it’s worth it.”

That advice goes for clothing, too, she pointed out. Ulsh doesn’t buy much in the way of thrift-store clothes, but she has in the past. She said the key is to inspect items thoroughly for imperfections such as staining, as well as checking the seams and, if vintage, the threads to make sure they aren’t fraying.

In the end, after debating the condition of the radio compared to a much better, yet more expensive one elsewhere, she put it back.

“If you’re not 100 percent sure, don’t buy it,” Ulsh said. “But if you are sure, don’t leave it, because it won’t be here when you get back.”

Ulsh prefers shopping at places connected to charities, such as the Salvation Army, which funds a broad range of causes, and the ARC, an organization that supports those with developmental disabilities. In addition to the feel-good factor of supporting a cause, she finds that charity shops often stock higher-quality merchandise.

Ulsh ended up hitting the jackpot on the third and final destination, the Home at Last Thrift & Gift, whose proceeds support a local horse sanctuary. The shop, at Sixth and Walnut streets, though small and full of items, is well-organized. And its prices are very reasonable.

After just a few minutes in the shop, she found a framed hand-embroidered floral wall-hanging that she said fit perfectly into her décor. She picked that up, as well as a couple of VHS tapes and a small, cute owl figurine. Ulsh’s parting piece of advice is to hit up a variety of shops, and often.

“If you go consistently, you find really good stuff,” she said.

Where to shop:

Chico is home to dozens of places to pick up second-hand goods, from antique and vintage-clothing stores, to thrift and consignment shops. But here are a few places where your purchasing dollars go to charity:

ARC Thrift Store 2020 Park Ave.

The Discovery Shoppe 315 Flume St.

Home at Last Thrift & Gift

611 Walnut St. (A $10 donation will get you a T-shirt and a card for 10 percent off all purchases in the shop for a year.)

PawPrints Thrift Store

1346 Longfellow Ave.

The Salvation Army 1358 East Ave.

The Salvation Army-Elite Repeat 700 Broadway

The Shop 982 East Ave.