Clandestine Mecca | The New York Optimist

Tola Brennan Writing

I know you’ve been to a thrift store sometime, somewhere. Some of you may be thrifters (you know, really serious thrift store shoppers). A few of you may be acquainted with that strange creature called “thrifter’s madness” (you know, like those crazy shopping sprees teenage girls are commonly accused of going on). Under the bleary eyed exhausting spell of the madness, the objective is not to spend as much money as possible, but to make many nifty finds with single digit price tags.

Anyway, not many thrift stores induce this oft sought after madness (perhaps a really big Salvation Army, a Goodwill, some nameless local thrift shop, certainly not those high-end thrift stores popping up in the East Village with hundred dollar jackets that you know the owner must have raided from somewhere else for a tenth of the price). It’s a rare and fortunate thing. Now, we all must have dreams about the perfect thrift store. I probably have. I’ve forgotten them. I assume the same goes for you. However, the point of this extraneously long introduction is this: the perfect thrift store exists, in Canada.

It manifests as something between a high-end thrift store and a low-end department store. It is always gigantic, and sometimes block sized. And quite reassuringly, everything in their store is actually arranged by size and sort. Everything is where it should be. You can find things. Half the job of filtering through piles of clothing has been done by the store already, so the buyer has the role of, say, fishing at one of those fish farms where you pay a flat rate and all the fish are splashing around in a pool so you always catch something, instead of on a weedy backwater lake. Okay. Bad analogy. You get my point. They have a good selection.

It’s called Value Village in Canada, Village des Valuers in Quebec. Value Village buys clothes and household items wholesale from various affiliated non-profits, sells whatever is suitable and donates the remainder (which consists of about half of their purchases) to developing countries. They also donate $117 million annually to charities, so says the infallible Wikipedia. Value Village (called Savers Inc. In the U.S.) remains rather elusive in New York as well as the East Coast (they have one location in Long Island, I recently discovered). However, in Ontario, Quebec, and even Newfoundland, they bloom with sublime grandeur.

I embarked on a cross-country spree, starting in Toronto (the point of discovery), on to Ottawa, and concluded in Montreal. I now have a whole new wardrobe on which I probably spent about $150. Each Value Village I arrived at was progressively more massive until I arrived at the mecca of Value Villages in Montreal, which covered an entire block. I entered bleary eyed and delirious to be greeted with a selection so colorful and varied, I was quite astounded. I left with a quest fulfilled and an exhausted sort of euphoria. Then, I returned to the convivial (yes, sarcasm) home country.

First published in The New York Optimist

Tola BrennanClandestine Mecca | The New York Optimist