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But it was 99 cents: Top thrift stores in Chicago

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(Photo courtesy of TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE)

Erik Rodriguez / Tribune News Service

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a college student in possession of no fortune must be in want of inexpensive clothing and housewares suited to his or her style.  However little known the fiscal status or aesthetic mindset of such a student may be, this truth is so well fixed that one needs not look far to find a plethora of stores dedicated to secondhand items that will surely fit any college student’s needs and budget.

Kate Schlough, a French and international studies student, said she began thrift store shopping by looking for a very specific sweater.

“My mom gave me my grandma’s old navy cashmere sweater and I wore it so much it was all holes,” she said. “So I decided a thrift store would be the best place to try to find a replacement.”

She was successful in finding a new (old) sweater, and the experience made her a thrifter for life. Schlough added that ethically and environmentally, shopping at thrift stores feels better than buying new.

Thrift stores are different than consignment because the clothing is donated. At consignment stores, sellers bring their clothing and get a fraction of the profit back.

Maggie Tikka, a psychology student and senior, said she loves to shop at second-hand stores as well as doing consignment at Plato’s Closet and Crossroad’s.

“I always feel like I get ripped off, but I guess it’s better than nothing,” she said.

Here are seven consignment and thrift stores to visit before school starts again.

Second Time Around
823 W. Armitage Ave.

A store dedicated to making designer labels more accessible is hidden between the expensive boutiques on Armitage Avenue. Relatively inexpensive, Second Time Around is all about gently used designer consignment. The designers they accept are high end — think Jil Sander and Prada — but they also consign and sell more mid-range brands.

“The lowest is new J.Crew and J.Crew Collection,” said assistant manager Deanna Bade.

The store is small, organized by style, size and color and sells women’s clothes, shoes, bags and jewelry. The median price is around $75 for a piece of clothing, but accessories and jewelry are less.

There are a few other Chicago area locations in Lakeview, Wicker Park and Evanston. Bade said each location reflects the style of the women who live there.

It might be slightly out of a college student’s budget for everyday clothing; the clothing is priced at 30 to 50 percent of the retail price, depending on how worn it is.  But, for a special occasion (or a treat yo’ self day), STA provides the perfect solution. The store also has a lot of clothing that a newly minted college graduate might need for her work wardrobe.

The Salvation Army
2270 N. Clybourn Ave.

To quote Stefon from Saturday Night Live, this place has everything. From mattresses to bikes; baby clothes to coffee mugs. Prices here are rock bottom and the selection is huge.

You might spend an hour sifting through the stemware to find six matching wine glasses.  You might find a movie poster from the ‘80’s that will undoubtedly announce your unparalleled individual tastes to all who enter your dorm room. You might find a perfectly buttery cashmere sweater for less than the price of a Chipotle burrito. Or, you might spend hours digging through the racks only to find nothing that strikes your fancy and leave empty handed.

The amount of merchandise can be overwhelming, so don’t plan on a quick trip.  If you want to save yourself some stress, go during off hours so you aren’t battling past shopping carts in the narrow aisles.

Crossroads Trading Co.
2711 N Clark St.

Crossroads is a happy median between “way too big to browse through” and “not enough options.”  The store is one large floor with fitting rooms in the back. The selection of brands is aligned with what college students are already buying: Forever 21, Gap, Free People, Zara.  There are both men’s and women’s sections, as well as a selection of higher end items behind the counter.

Lindsy Lee, a sales associate, said most of the people who consign with them also buy with them.  What they look for is “really current, really good condition” clothing, especially seasonal clothing. The turnover is quick to keep the clothes on trend.

“I have noticed lately that Lululemon is out of here in a day,” she said.

The only downside to Crossroads is that because it is consignment, the prices are slightly higher than at a thrift store.  Most pieces on the floor range from $15 to $50. The upside is that it is easy to browse and they have a lot of clothing that is stylish, clean, and in good condition.

Brown Elephant
3020 N. Lincoln Ave.

The Brown Elephant is one of Chicago’s most beloved thrift stores, and the Lakeview location shows why. The showroom is huge, well lit, organized and doesn’t have that thrift store smell. They have a wide selection of items, but most of the square footage is dedicated to furniture. There is also art, books and clothing.

The clothing is all upstairs, but there isn’t much of it. What they do have is in good condition and relatively stylish. Except for designer-wear, everything is priced based on styles. So, T-shirts are $4, dresses are $8, and so on.

The main floor contains the furniture, art and books. Prices are reasonable. A nice suede couch was $175, a simple lamp only $5. According to a sales associate, prices on furniture are negotiable.

Tikka said the Brown Elephant is her favorite thrift store, so she was sad to see the Halstead location go out of business.

“The one in Oak Park is really good,” she added.

Another upside of shopping at the Brown Elephant is that all proceeds go to the Howard Brown Medical center, an organization whose mission is to help the LGBT community by providing “services that promote health and wellness.”

[box]Read: Buying furniture: Thinking outside the IKEA box[/box]

Belmont Army 
855 W. Belmont Ave.

The top two floors of Belmont Army contain an army surplus store on one and a vintage clothing store on the next. The surplus store is full of army jackets, boots, old pins and camping gear like blankets and backpacks.

“You’ll find a little bit of everything,” said Kaleb Sullivan, a sales associate. “There’s new, there’s used, there’s reproduction.”

Sullivan said that the authentic — or at least, authentic-looking — gear brings in a lot of theater people. They have also worked with the television shows Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D., as well as with the upcoming “Batman vs. Superman” movie.

The vintage store upstairs is mostly clothing, with a few vintage housewares thrown in.  They have real vintage from the ‘60s and ‘70s, as well as newer clothing. From grandma’s two-piece, sequined party suit to jorts and tie-dye, you’re sure to find whatever ironic outfit you are looking for.

Elliot Consignment 
2465 N. Lincoln Ave.

A family-owned consignment store with two Chicago locations, Elliot Consignment is focused on designer labels. The store is small, but the basement fills out the selection. The high end designer is expensive — $950 for a Chanel jacket, but you can find some good deals in the mid range brands like White House – Black Market and Free People. The store is organized by size and style.

Sharon Elliot, the owner, says she looks for designer labels less than two years old, but that isn’t a hard line.

“I take the cutesy of the lower end stuff, and then I want the designer labels,” she said.

The clothing here is both men’s and women’s and they encompass a variety of styles, hip, chic, bohemian, business and grandma’s attic. The collection is a little hard to browse, but they have some interesting, and certainly unique, finds.

Village Discount
2032 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Village Discount is really similar to the Salvation Army: massive amounts of anything you could ever want and a bunch of stuff you probably never wanted. Clothing, dishes, a creepy old figurine of a mailman named Terry, kid’s toys and furniture can all be found here.

The organization is pretty hit or miss. Clothing is organized by color and style, but if you want a backpack, you’ll just have to dig through the pile.

Like Salvation Army, any finds are going to take some serious searching, but the price tag will be worth it. Unlike Salvation Army, the aisles are actually wide enough to accommodate a cart and a human body.

1 Comment

One Response to “But it was 99 cents: Top thrift stores in Chicago”

  1. Linda Wills on June 18th, 2015 11:07 am

    Unless you need emergency cash, DON’T sell your clothing, consign it! The shops that buy clothing do rip you off. They’re taking the risk so they logically want to minimize the risk! Consignment stores will pay you 40-50% of the sale price, sometimes more if you have items that sell for more than $100. Sure, you have to wait to get paid, but that bigger check sure is sweet!

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But it was 99 cents: Top thrift stores in Chicago