Nifty thrifty

A comprehensive guide to Chico’s thrift stores

STRIKE A POSE <br>Alison Dyer, a liberal-studies major at Chico State University, makes a fashion model out of international-relations major Corey Hall, at Thrift Queen on Nord

Alison Dyer, a liberal-studies major at Chico State University, makes a fashion model out of international-relations major Corey Hall, at Thrift Queen on Nord

Photo by Tom Angel

CHICO CHECKPOINT: One of the best ways to spot a new-to-towner, or tourist, is to note who drops coins into the parking meters on Saturday or Sunday. Don’t do it.

Moving out on your own but the only furniture you have is your bunk beds from elementary school? Cooking soup in a frying pan because you don’t want to shell out for a pot? That’s college for you.

Fortunately, Chico has a little secret: It’s full of thrift stores. With a $20 bill in your pocket, you’re wealthy, as you venture through the diverse variety of shops here. I’ve scored stuff many times and offer you the benefit of my experience in this compendium of Chico’s thrift stores. Happy hunting.

St. Vincent De Paul Thrift Shop
932 West Eighth Ave.
Best for: old but well-cared-for furniture, random collectibles
Recent finds: two retro end tables for $35, foldout couch for $95

St. Vinnie’s, with its friendly senior-citizen staff and watchful Jesus statue, is a bit off the beaten path but worth the drive down Eighth if only to marvel at the vintage hair dryers and reel-to-reel tapes. The place screams: “Someone died and gave us all their stuff.” The cool thing about this is, what is junk to them is retro-cool to student types. Pick up a ‘50s coffee table or a $20 TV. And don’t forget to check out the clothes racks; there’s a section especially for the costume-party-going college student.

Salvation Army
1054 Broadway and 1358 East Avenue
Best for: bikes, beat-up furniture, exercise equipment
Recent finds: $150 organ, $4 Snoopy waffle iron (Broadway location); 25-cent Melmac cups, $5 popcorn popper in its original box (East Avenue)

The Salvation Army recently added another store, cramming tons of stuff into a former auto parts joint near the Safeway on East Avenue. Both are full of fine finds, with the Broadway location being less clean and organized. Both families and college students frequent the shops on the lookout for $50 kitchen tables and $100 couches. To keep prices low, appliances and electrical gadgets are sold with no guarantees, so play at your own risk. While nothing stands out as a treasure when you walk in, I never fail to find several good things at Salvation Army. Also, through some weird, ongoing sale, almost everything is discounted once you get to the register.

Elite Repeat
700 Broadway
Best for: cool kitchenware, shoes, quality furniture
Recent find: Ice Capades Barbie in the box for $10 (book price is $35; got the capital?)

The true gold of the Salvation Army’s take is found here, at its “upscale resale” shop. The staff culls donations for collectibles, better clothes and the like, pricing it accordingly: higher. No worries. You can zero in on what you’re looking for (vintage dresses, desks, video cassettes) because the store is organized like a nice antique shop.

Goodwill Industries
1405 Park Ave.
Best for: clothes, mattresses
Recent find: Yahtzee for $2

Another old standby of the donate-your-stuff-for-charity world, Goodwill constantly cycles in and out scores of nice finds, from Levi’s and Bongo jean shorts to Supertramp albums. Corporations, too, donate unwanted stock to Goodwill, so it’s Christmas in July as holly-themed Saran wrap goes for $1.50 a roll. Thrift stores, by the way, are a good way to remind you of there are some things for which you should never have to pay retail: coffee mugs, three-ring binders and Boggle among them. Goodwill’s main problem is they need to just throw away the things no one will ever buy, like recorded-over blank cassette tapes.

The Well Family Bargain Center
Behind Goodwill, off Park Avenue at 14th Street
Best for: luggage, kids’ stuff, reflecting on your own good fortune
Recent finds: luggage for $2 to $5

The Well is a ministry aimed toward getting people off alcohol and drugs with the addition of Christian support. I’m praying its thrift shop is still open by the time this prints, because I don’t want to steer you wrong. I found it by accident, on my way to Goodwill. This is very much a thrown-together shop frequented by families with few resources. Appropriately, then, there are many low-priced clothes, toys, books, kitchenware and the like. You might find a needle in the haystack here.

ARC Thrift Store
2020 Park Ave.
Best for: collectibles, golf clubs, ‘70s-style couches
Recent finds: velvet painting of bull fighter (with glitter) for $6.50

A fund-raiser for the Association for Retarded Citizens, the ARC Thrift Store has worked hard to make this a well-stocked shop with a reputation for selection and quick turn-around of incoming donations. It’s succeeding. The shop is roomy and organized into distinct areas: shoes, toys, books and so on. Every time I go in, it’s better. This is the place to check for old records and vintage linens for gifts (or to sell on eBay), as well as the next-to-final resting place of Chico’s lost golf clubs ($2.50 apiece).

The Cancer Shop
On Mangrove Avenue, in the Safeway shopping center
Best for: gifts for mom
Recent finds: wool-and-cashmere DKNY blazer for $25, espresso maker for $10

This shop raises money for the American Cancer Society and prides itself on putting out quality items—mostly clothes—with no stains or tears and such. Traditionally, donors have been older, so the stock has followed suit. But the shop is branching out, seeking gifts from college students, so watch for more. I’ve found cool stuff here, like a pitcher shaped like an orange and recent bestsellers. They’re selective, so things are pricier here (think $6 for a blouse rather than $1).

Park Avenue Antiques
2260 Park Ave.
Best for: furniture, conversation
Recent finds: $35 gold bongos, $95 deco-look coffee table

The “antique” reference seems to be to the restored furniture. Otherwise, this is basically a nice thrift shop. I was impressed with the quality of the furniture and expected the prices to be much higher than they were. A Mission-style desk in great condition sells for a fair $199. Other typical thrift store items are spread throughout the store, and nothing is in a jumble, so you don’t feel like you’ve missed anything. Check it out.

Discovery Shop
315 Flume St.
Best for: old-people clothes, random knick-knacks
Recent finds: ice cream scoop for 10 cents

The occasional find can be found at the smallish Discovery Shop near downtown Chico, but you must be willing to wade through Grandpa’s old suits and Grandma’s plastic purses. The window is attractively and seasonally decorated; it’s just geared toward the older set. Include the Discovery Shop on your rounds, or you might miss out on something.

Thrifty Bargains
2432 The Esplanade
Best for: appliances
Recent finds: entire china sets for $5

Thrifty Bargain (for some reason everyone I know, like the store’s sign, drops the “s") is one of Chicoans’ favorite thrift stores. A lot of people unload their stuff here. Fondue pots, old National Geographics, straw baskets and eight-track tapes abound. Many wait eagerly for the frequent sale days, when everything is discounted by a certain percentage. One of the happiest things for a bargain hunter is the sheer nature of most thrift stores: They’re often run by volunteers, for charity, who don’t have the time to meticulously sort through everything, much less find out what it’s worth. Hence, I can find a doll at Thrifty Bargain that’s marked $2.29, get to the register and find that for some reason it’s 30 percent off, and then sell said doll on eBay for, I’m hoping, at least $30. Score. Drawback: After you leave, you really want to wash your hands.

The Difference
841 Cherry St.
Best for: outfitting a classy kitchen, rounding out a collection
Recent finds: Fiestaware, CDs

The folks who run this thrift/ antique store know what they’re doing, so you’re not likely to pull anything over on them in the way of huge bargains. (If that’s a Tiffany lamp, you’re not paying $3.) Count on the Difference as the place most likely to have the missing piece to your china set or that vase your mom’s always wanted. No clothes. Don’t forget to check out the drawers of CDs; there are some good ones in there. Also, the service here is the friendliest in town. They love to talk shop, and the cookies and coffee are free.

514 Orange St.
Uh, let’s see… 514 Orange St.
Best for: vintage jewelry, old baseball pennants, rocking chairs
Recent finds: turquoise fridge and stove set for $500

This warehouse full of neat stuff is open Thursdays through Sundays, as of this writing, and it’s not in the Yellow Pages, so you’re getting the inside track. Make your way through the maze of furniture and other items and you’ll find yourself saying, “Hey, look at that!” The wacky and the weird reside here, such as a Mr. Magoo doll redressed in lace jammies (at least he can’t see the indignity of it all).

Thrift Queen
641 Nord Ave.
Best for: clothes (you do the sorting), wigs
Recent finds: Princess Bride video for $4.99, funky fake leather jacket, $24.99

If you’re the type of prima donna thrift shopper who doesn’t want to actually touch, or be touched by, other people’s stuff as you browse, Thrift Queen is not the place for you. They’ve crammed everything but everything in this hole-in-the-wall on Nord, with nary a foot of squeeze room between clothing racks. We’re talking piles upon piles. Still, this is a student favorite: video games, ‘80s party gear and costume jewelry abound. Oh, and be forewarned: The Donny and Marie record player is for display only.

Jean Farm
163 East Third St.
Best for: vintage jeans, retro shirts, fake weenies
Recent finds: Levi’s turned into skirts for $18-20; leather wallets on a chain for $12

Jean Farm is savior to the vintage clothing seeker. It’s the land of lost Levi’s as well as the place to re-discover Bozo the Clown dolls, Care Bears lunch boxes and Garbage Pail Kids trading cards. Dig through a bucket of farm toys—it’s fun.

Bending to its market of college students and the working class (both men’s and women’s clothes are stocked), Jean Farm has even more jean stuff of late, and has added a “love room,” with pipes and sexy toys. Talk about diversifying.

152 East Third St.
Best for: college girls’ clothes, trendy jewelry
Recent finds: Japanese tea set, hippie skirt

Artifax hits on several different markets, carrying “recycled” clothes as well as some new stuff. And they’ve hit the auctions, too. There are some retro-rad housewares, vintage jewelry—even a few records.

As at Jean Farm, you won’t find rock-bottom prices here. They know a good thing when they see it. But Artifax is a great place to get cool clothes for well under what you’d pay at a chain store, and you won’t show up to a party dressed exactly like someone else.

Quality Resale
1367 East Ninth Ave.
Best for: old toys, furniture, reminiscing
Recent find: 25-cent golf balls

I always find something really cool in this shop, which looks like a converted garage. Last time, it was a puzzle game my mom had when I was a kid and I hadn’t seen since. The guy here is nice (they fix sewing machines and refinish furniture), and the layout is such that shelves divide it into little sections. Prices are excellent, and you won’t find any pretentiousness here.

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