Bargain thrills

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It’s officially summer, which means that it’s officially yard-sale season, which means it’s officially time to wake at dawn every Saturday morning and traverse the city for treasures.

I love yard sales, thrift stores, estate sales and flea markets. To me, there’s little time better spent browsing through people’s pasts and giving new life to abandoned objects.

On Saturday, a friend and I set out with hot coffees and pocketfuls of cash. We’d scoured Craigslist for sales, but our first stop wasn’t someone’s yard but instead the Urban Flea Market on Del Paso Boulevard. The sale, a benefit to rebuild the Iceland skating rink, which burned to the ground in a March fire, showcased locally made crafts as well as vintage goods culled from homes throughout the region. The sale was small in scope but big in idea, with everything from handmade lockets and soaps to 1960s-era cocktail dresses and World War II-era kitchen accessories. I bought a chunky 1940s silver flower bracelet for $5 and added it to my summer stash of secondhand treasures.

Next, we headed back to Land Park—one of the best neighborhoods for vintage scores, we agreed—where my friend bought a pair of brown suede boots ($5) and a canvas tote bag adorned with gazelles ($1). My only purchase was a worn, paperback copy of Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française (50 cents), but this season’s scouring of sales has already proven fruitful.

Some of my best 2010 scores so far include a book on the connection between Halloween and Satan (50 cents, selected from a stack of religious books being sold by a grizzled old man and his alarmingly young wife). Also: a pair of gorgeous 1940s brown-and-white saddle oxfords ($1), a pretty fleur-de-lis print skirt ($3), a brand new gym bag ($5—it’s actually a diaper bag that came with a colorful sippy cup, but it holds sneakers just as well) and a huge stack of Parisian-made prints featuring pictures of scampering kittens. Those were originally 10 cents each, but as I picked through the fragile, crumbling prints looking for ones that were still intact, the woman selling them reconsidered and offered the entire lot for $1.

The woman herself purchased them a decade ago at an antique store and, as she related their history to me on that cool summer morning, I imagined my future, maybe 10 years from now, sitting in my own front yard selling off the rest for 50 cents.

That’s the beauty of recycled shopping: Not only do you learn a little about the person who once laid claim to the item, you also always learn a little about your own past, present and future.

And, certainly, you learn a little about your surroundings. Sacramento is no exception, revealing itself in faded bits and pieces, with each exchange of money and object.

My favorite finds over the years have cemented my love for this region with their varying degrees of oddness, beauty and practicality. Among my favorite secondhand scores: a tiny, brightly painted wooden Ferris wheel purchased at the Sacramento Antique Faire ($15); a 1950s turquoise tiled coffee table bought at an East Sac garage sale ($5 but, sadly, thieved away years later as I was moving out of an apartment in New York); and a plastic bag filled with wooden, pipe-cleaner adorned squirrels from the Sacramento SPCA Thrift Store ($1.98).

Think about that one for a second. A bag of wooden squirrels festooned with orange and purple and yellow pipe cleaners and tiny plastic eyes.

Who made them? Who decided to give them away? How did their value become appraised at $1.98?

I doubt I’ll ever know the answers to those particular questions, but I’ll continue to revel in the bargain thrill of the hunt as I shop for the stories.