published Thursday, February 28th, 2013

In Tune: Looking for a come-up at local thrift stores

When I was younger, my family rented a house on Pawleys Island, S.C., almost every summer, and with the exception of a few bad sunburns, I have nothing but fond memories of our visits.

As a child, I was mesmerized by the way the ocean was in a constant state of change. Nowhere was this more in evidence than in tidal pools. Each low tide brought new sea life stranded in the pools for me to gawk at. I loved that I never knew what I would find in them.

In a way, then, it makes sense that, as an adult, I have become obsessed with thrift stores. Like tide pools, the offerings at thrift stores change day to day. Only instead of sea stars and rock goby, they provide a home to Cosby sweaters and plaster bear figurines.

Growing up in the Clinton years, I remember many people looking down their nose at thrift stores as a place "only poor people shopped," while the middle class did its due consumer diligence by buying items at full price. Since the recession, that attitude has changed.

After the economic downturn, the media reported heavily on booming sales at secondhand shops. A 2009 HowStuffWorks.com article included thrift stores in its list of 10 recession-proof businesses.

What began as an economic necessity for some has been embraced fully by pop culture.

Anyone looking for evidence of America's newfound love need look no further than "Thrift Shop" by Macklemore, in which the Seattle-based rapper praises saving money at thrift stores by poppin' tags on your grandpa's hand-me-downs. When it was released last October, the song became the second independently produced track in Billboard history to reach the No. 1 spot on the Hot 100 chart.

My mother used to react to the words "clearance sale" like she'd heard the secret word on "Pee-wee's Playhouse." She undoubtedly would say this uptick in popularity is a sign that America is finally exhibiting consumerist common sense.

Just as I used to rush to tidal pools every summer to see what the ocean left behind, visiting thrift stores has become part of my weekly ritual. Over the years, I've made some killer finds, from $4 Gap pea coats to a $6 Herman Miller chair that sells on eBay for $1,900.

Would my 7-year-old self approve? I'd like to think so. Then, he'd go back to acting out a battle royale with his dinosaur figurines. Who knows? Maybe those will come back, too.

Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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