An Insider’s Guide to the Salvation Army Coat Sale

Next Sale November 6, 2010!

Let me begin by saying that I’m still satisfying my shopping cravings while maintaining a somewhat monastic closet. This year, I’ve gotten rid of literally three carloads of stuff by either donating, giving to friends or selling on eBay – but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the hunt!  For this trip, I decided that I’d go for the gusto and keep whatever pieces really struck me and find good-hearted people to offer the rest to.

Ian and I showed up at 8:30, and there were already about 30 people smashed up against the entrance to the loading dock, which was being guarded by several burly Salvation Army workers who have strict instructions not to engage or speak to customers.  I recognized a few of the people waiting as being dealers in vintage clothing, and a few others as ruthless shoppers I’ve encountered in the past.  Everyone was eyeing the lady in the wheelchair and the woman with the cane, trying to figure out how to climb over them once the melee started.  I asked around, and most everyone said they were going for the furs.  (Generally they keep the furs in a long line just to the right as you go in.  However, shopping carts are just to the LEFT, so unless you’re going with a friend or two, you’re not going to be able to grab both in time.)

They opened the doors about 15 minutes early, and the rush is totally ridiculous.  It’s literally every person for themselves, and they’ll run right over you if you try to be polite.  Keeping a sense of humor is equally as vital as going for what you want and keeping a strong grip.  It’s mob mentality, but geniality is always welcome.

STAMPEDE!!!!

So.  Furs are flying, but I head for the handbags.  A lovely woman who is a self-described “amateur fashion archivist” had already dived into the giant bin and gotten a couple of Louis V bags (though one looked like Louis’ cousin Louie instead); I grabbed and grabbed and within 3 minutes had two Longchamps, a faux Chloe, a Barney’s knit and leather, and a Walter Stieger.  I kept one of the Longchamps and gave the rest over to people I determined to be decent human beings.  It’s a good feeling and it satisfies the hunter in me at the same time.

I then headed for the leathers, in search of the perfect motorcycle jacket.  After searching through hundreds of jackets, I found about six for Ian and two maybes for myself.  The one nifty thing, though, is that some playful person put a few furs in with the leathers – I grabbed two minks and a curly lamb, thanking whoever decided to nestle them in there.  It was like an easter egg hunt!

Foxeh!

I don’t want to get into the debate about furs; if you’re into them, this is definitely the place to go, as they’re recycled.  If you’re not, there are literally hundreds of faux furs, synthetic leathers and natural fiber coats.

Eatcher heart out, Leather Tuskadero!

I can’t stress enough how terrific and handy it is to go with a friend – you look for stuff for each other, and you’ve got someone to watch over your haul while you dive back in for more.

I stopped and talked with Bettina, a lovely little lady who had the biggest pile of furs I’ve ever seen outside of a zoo – she said she would probably go home with 3 or 4 coats, and that the best thing she’d scored at a Salvation Army sale was a Louis Féraud full length mink for $40.

Lady is SERIOUS!

We met Ricky and Oisetta, a couple of people who had scored not only an empty rack to hang their goodies on, but loads and loads of amazing coats – turns out they run a shop in Brooklyn at Artists & Fleas – from the looks of their haul, they’re in for a staggering profit.

Enter the Entrepreneurs!

We decided to take a break and go have some breakfast, use the facilities and wash our hands – the water in the sink, I can’t even TELL you how gray it was.

We went back in (of course), and were surprised that at around 11:45, they began bringing out EVEN MORE racks of coats. Ian found a beautiful silver fox jacket for me, and I found a vintage Ocelot coat – ¾ length and the collar was slightly frayed along the seam, but totally beautiful.  It’s an endangered species, so it’s not legal to sell (I know because I own one, bequeathed from my late Aunt Bernice).  Ian watched me as I pandered, whined and justified why I needed a second Ocelot, and convinced me that it would make me a better person to find a nice woman to hand it off to.

Nice kittehs

I wore it around as I cajoled myself like an addict justifying just one more fix – the sighs and gasps as I walked by were audible.  You will be followed by people hoping you’ll put things down (and you’ll find yourself doing the same).  Dealers were all over me, bitchy women were following me, and finally I gave it to a lovely young girl who was so grateful it nearly made me tear up.  The fox tried to go to a pack of ladies we chatted with in line, but it didn’t fit them, so I asked them to help me find a nice woman to hand it over to.  Though I can’t remember her name, she was the “amateur fashion archivist,” and was over the moon, as she had come specifically to try to find a fox coat.  She’s also a blogger, and I hope we find each other again someday!

So.  After having in my hot little hands a dozen or more minks and other exotic furs, leathers, and peacoats, I walked out having paid $1.98 for a new Longchamp bag. (They’re lifesavers on rainy days!)

Ian, on the other hand, scored a totally gorgeous motorcycle jacket for $30.

Sexah!

The bottom line is this; check it out with an open mind, be prepared, keep a sense of humor and decorum, and most importantly, BE NICE TO PEOPLE.  The ladies who were nice to me got some serious scores.

Also, remember WHY you’re choosing to go second-hand shopping rather than retail.  Yes, there are just staggering bargains to be had; more importantly, however, your time and dollars benefit people who need it the most.  The Salvation Army helps thousands of people each year who would otherwise literally be starving on the streets.  Try to keep that in mind when the bitchy dealer elbows your ribs as she reaches across your chest for the bag you were about to pick up.  It won’t keep you from getting angry, but it will help you keep your eye on the prize.

If you missed this sale, there are several others coming up.  Here’s the schedule:

November 6, 2010 December 4, 2010 January 8, 2011

And here’s a handy little bullet list of things to remember:

  • Line up starts by 8:00
  • Eat a good breakfast and use the restroom half an hour before you go
  • Dress in form-fitting clothing
  • Don’t carry a big bag.  (A cross-shoulder bag is perfect.)
  • They have a parking lot, but get there by 8:15 to get a spot.
  • Try to get a shopping cart, or bring a cart with you.
  • Bring water, hand wipes and a snack
  • Keep a sense of humor – you’ll be one of the rare few who does, and honey, you’ll need it!
  • Check everything for rips, stains, smell (!) and fit
  • Thank the people who work there.  They’re working hard and are working for a good cause.
  • Be nice to people.
  • Get out and wash your hands, satisfied that you’ve gotten the bargain of the year and have helped out hundreds of people.

I’ll miss the November 6th Sale because I’m going back to Paris (le yay!), but will be there with bells on December 4th.  We’ll work to get permission to film this one, so come find us and get featured on Thrift Store Confidential!

Thanks again for being a TSC reader. All best, Nicole & Ian and the TSC Team

Me'n Ian!