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Wednesday
Apr242013

Rhode Island's "thrift store gone bad" and a place for kiddos!

I started off the day with a gorgeous view of Boston from my hotel room, and got a bit of a later start than I'd hoped.

I didn't realize until I was pulling away from the hotel just how close I'd been to Boyleston Street-- just around the corner. Just ahead of me at the stoplight was a fire house with signs paying tribute to the victims of last week's events. 

I pulled onto the interstate heading south, and it didn't take long for me to realize I'd seriously underestimated how far it was to Rhode Island. Again, paying a toll every two feet (or at least it felt like it), but at least I was leaving the city and the traffic was light.

Yesterday, a woman at a toll booth on my way into Boston must have seen the terror on my face when I pulled up to pay-- clearly frazzled from the erratic drivers. She leaned into my car as I paid and said, "You know where you're going, honey?" Luckily the GPS hasn't steered me wrong yet, but the drivers along this portion of the trip are definitely stressing me out.

I pulled into Providence with just enough time to meet up with an old journalism friend for a bite before heading over for a visit at the Khadarlis Thrift Shop for just after lunch.

What I found was truly unexpected.

I walked in and met Aisha, the director. She tells me that sadly, they no longer have a thrift store here. That explains why the letters that spelled "thrift" had been peeled off the awning out front, though the word was still legible. 

"Do you want to photograph a thrift store gone bad?" she asks.

Well now I do-- and now I'm interested in why.

Aisha tells me she was working in health care in 2004 when she decided to take a trip back to her native Sierra Leone after the end of the war there-- to check in on family and see that was happening. She saw the need huge need for funding to help the people there get back on their feet, so she started Khadarlis Thrift Store as a non-profit back in Providence as a way to assist those in need back in Sierra Leone. 

The thrift shop opened in 2007. 

But Aisha was getting requests for assistance more often than customers.

Most weeks the thrift store was only making about $60-- a week. By 2010 she realized this wasn't a thrift store, it needed to be a community center since there was clearly more of a need for it. 

She'd already been organizing folks in the neighborhood to clear the streets of graffiti when one day she got a call from Home Depot. They wanted to assist her efforts and soon there were donations piling up from them in the former thrift store.

Then Bed Bath & Beyond called-- they wanted to assist her efforts in helping neighborhood folks in need of home goods. In came their donations as well. Then The Avenue began donating items, then Guess. 

She leads me to the door to the basement, where she says she now stores all the donated goods that come in. When people come in to the center requesting a certain sized dress or a specific item they need, she climbs down the stairs and digs through the boxes and bags to find it for them. 

I take a few steps down the stairs to see for myself and she tells me to be careful.

With good reason.

The basement is completely-- no joke, floor to ceiling-- full of stuff that's been donated. I get about halfway down the steps when the steps are suddenly overtaken by bags, boxes, bikes and chairs and I can't go any further without crawling across it all.  

Back upstairs, Aisha tells me about all the ways the center is used now. As a place to type up resumes and cover letters, as a place to care for 10-30 kids after school (she makes meals at home with her own money to bring and give to kids each day) and she and her volunteers work with partner agencies in the area, including a women's shelter, a family center and the local Goodwill Youth Center, who works with Khadarlis on a youth job skills training program.  

She even has a list on the walls and photos from the programs in Sierra Leone-- and now Guatemala as well-- that she sends food and other goods to when she can. 

Oh, and she also runs a pen pal program with local students and kids in Sierra Leone. 

It doesn't take long talking to Aisha to know she has a huge heart. She doesn't turn anyone-- or anything away. And even despite having been robbed recently (they took her computers), she's still upbeat about what she's doing here.

"God provides," she said. "I was raised to believe that and I do believe that. If you do the right thing, the rest will fall into place."

As for a return to her old line of work in health care, she just smiles. "The pleasure I get from this, nobody can buy." 

So much for a "thrift store gone bad." I tell her I think this is a thrift store gone even better. 

We hug and say our goodbyes.

Now I'm off to a store over on the East side of town called Hope Returns Thrift and Gifts. 

Inside I meet Virginia, who is running the shop today and helping a customer find a cute outfit for her nine-month-old daughter. This shop specializes in second hand kids items-- toys and clothes-- and also sells some locally made goods. 

The variety in the store is obvious and Virginia says she appreciates that. "I like that I don't open a box of something that's 30 of the same."

She says her customers like buying second hand for both financial and philosophical reasons-- opting to keep their consumption footprint low. "They know they're being kinder to the environment," she said. "And because it's been washed, there's fewer chemicals so environmentally, it's a lot friendlier. 

Like Aisha, she also sees the store as a way to create a sense of community. Except instead of covering graffiti, Virginia's store is open to area mom's groups, who utilize the thrift store as a meeting space after hours. 

 

As for why others should shop secondhand, Virginia knows it's not for everyone. "I understand it's a personal preference," she said. "You'd be surprised that the stuff hanging in your closet is hanging here." 

I have to hand it to you, Rhody-- you had a few twists up your sleeve for me today, but they're both inspiring ladies and their stories show the power of secondhand.  

So I leave you tonight in New Haven, Connecticut where I'll visit a Goodwill store tomorrow before making a bee-line to a friend's house where I can overnight in NYC.  

So send all the good traffic/parking karma you can my way, I'm going to need it!

Nighty-night, thrifters! 

---------------------------------------------------------------

Miles driven since April 6: 3,640

Miles driven for the project so far total (roughly): 13,140

Tuesday
Apr232013

Thrifty anchors away in New England! 

Today started off with another epic round of contientntal breakfast vs snooze button.

DING-DING!

These battles are nearly always won by snooze button--and today, continental breakfast didn't even stand a chance. 

In the car, I head toward South Portland, where I'm told there's an epic Goodwill awaiting me. Inside, it seems sort of packed for a Tuesday morning. The manager on duty, Topher, tells me this is a pretty typical showing for Tuesdays. 

There's a guy with earbuds in, pushing a full cart of stuff. I overhear someone asking someone else how their Earth Day was yesterday. And finally-- in true New England fashion, I overhear the classic line, "How's ya mutha?"

I have to smile-- even in thrift stores I'm getting a full New England experience. I half expect a parade of notable Mainers like Stephen King and Olympia Snowe to brush past me. Speaking of which, a little bird tells me that the latter donates lots of size 2 dress suits to the Goodwill on the North side of town. 

I find a "Honey Badger doesn't care" t-shirt that simply must come home with me. I think I know of someone who might like to make it his own.

I stop to chat with Elaine, who tells me she became a thrift shopper after her house burned down in 2007. "I had to replace everything," she says. " You get such good buys!"

Not only is she a wise shopper-- she's an inventive one too. She tells me she recently got a wine rack here, using it instead as a towel rack in her bathroom, which takes up much less room than her old bulky one. "A lot of things I get inventive with," she says.

What a smart cookie! 

Back in HaRVey2, I take a bite of my day-old whoopie pie that I grabbed back in Lebanon, NH and hit the road again toward Massachusetts. 

I have an EZPass in my car at home, so having to stop and pay tolls at each stop on this trip has been an eye opener.  I feel like I'm stopping and paying a toll to someone just about every two feet up here. 

I set my sights on Salem, Massachusetts-- mostly because I've heard of it and I'm curious to see if there's any stores there. After a bite of lunch, I find Llifebridge Thrift Shop. Inside I meet the manager Patrice, who gives me a little history of the place, whose profits provide meals for the community and emergency shelter and housing for the area's homeless.

I'm not browsing long before I overhear hear the booming voice of Michael, who is making note of the swimsuits currently being put out by a volunteer for display. He says he has two daughters and says he doesn't even try to pretend to know anything about their fashion choices. 

He says he shops thrift stores frequently and likes being able to get nice stuff for low prices. As an avid biker, he likes to check in to see if there's any equipment for sale. 

He says he runs a cleaning service, and often his customers will give him things they no longer want, and if he doesn't want them, he donates them on to places like this.  "The circle is empowering," he says of the environmental impact of thrifting. "Somebody might really need or have to have that."

When I tell him about the project, he gets excited-- which gets me excited. Each time I see people's eyes light up about what I'm doing, it gives me a little fuel to keep going on this project that just started with a daydream on my couch.  

I love that he recognizes the same things I see in these places. "It's a great subculture of America," he says.

Couldn't have said it better myself!

In the housewares, I spy a clam steamer on the ground-- complete with lower portion that has a spigot on it for the clam juice. You know you're in a New England thrift store if....

Then just as I'm getting ready to leave, I notice a funny looking object in the front window nestled between a set of patio furniture.

I move in for closer inspection.

IT'S A FREAKING ANCHOR! A HUUUUUGE ANCHOR! 

The manager tells me it's probably around 7ft. high. All she knows about it is that it's from a schooner and it was brought in a few weeks ago. The donor said it served as decor in his front yard for 40 years. He dug it up and brought it down and donate. 

Want it?

Around $500, a trip to Massachusetts, and a strong back and it can be yours, matey! In fact, I have already heard from a friend who wants to buy it! 

Still in shock from my unique maritime discovery, I set my sights on the Goodwill in South Boston.

Navigating the streets of Boston is so nerve-racking-- I can't even imaging trying to do this in an RV.  

I arrive at the location on West Broadway and meet James, who tells me about a runner for the Goodwill marathon team last week that made national news, and another runner who escaped unscathed, but with a nail embedded in his shoe from the blast.

In a weird way, I feel sort of glad I was on this trip when this news happened, since day after day I was seeing the kindness of strangers instead of having to be fixated on the heartbreak of the events that day. And being able to come through Boston now makes it all the more moving, especially seeing all the Boston Strong messages on the local busses as I drive around.

At the store waiting for me as well is a blogger named Melissa, who runs a site dedicated to all things thrifty and environmental.

SWEET! I get a thrifting buddy this stop! 

We browse together for nearly two hours, exchanging stories and figuring out that we even have some mutual friends

I stumble onto two tees I can't live without-- one is a vintage tee from the Boston Globe's advertising campaign that reads, "The Globe's Here!" and another that one features a drawing of a streaker with his naughty bits pixelated. 

I had a FANTASTIC day today, made especially awesome by some amazing friends who pulled some strings and got me a room at a fancy hotel downtown on the super duper cheap-- complete with a bottle of complimentary wine. 

Never was a bottle of wine so wanted needed.  The closer I get to home, the more I just want to get in the car, punch the gas and pull up to my house so I can sleep in my own bed again.

But I'm on a mission here, and it's not quite over.

So I leave you tonight in a room on the 24th floor with a view of the Charles and MIT, sipping complimentary wine and dreaming of hitting my snooze button once again-- or probably three times. At least. 

Tomorrow, Rhode Island and Connecticut!

 

Monday
Apr222013

Artists and florals and lobster traps-- oh MY!

Today started a bit late, but for good reason. Who doesn't turn down sleeping in and some homemade french toast? 

With some advice on a few scenic route options and a few goodie bags of road food (thanks Bill and Lorrie!) I got on my way heading east-- off to Maine via the Kancamagus Highway.

It may have been a slower way to get there, but I guarantee it was the absolute prettiest way to get there.

After crossing the White Mountains, lakes, rivers, snow-packed landscapes and lots of moose crossings, I finally rolled into Maine in the early afternoon. Driving toward Portland I see a thrift store off the right side of the road in Bridgton. I parked in hopes I could pop in for a few photos and a chat.  

Inside the Bridgton Hospital Guild Thrift Shop I meet Heather, who is stopping in while waiting for her husband Joe to finish up across the street.

She says she's a found object artist and she often looks for items at thrift stores, auctions, and yard sales to incorporate into her pieces. She likes that by using found objects, she's not adding to her footprint as an artist. "It's reusing, it's recycling," she said. "And it supports all kinds of people in the community." 

Her husband Joe comes in to join Heather, and tells me he's also an artist, working in custom airbrush painting.

They've been married for two years and Joe admits he wasn't much of a thrifter before he met Heather. She also loves that he enjoys it with her and doesn't wonder why she's bringing home random finds.  

"I've always loved old, unusual and broken things-- that's why I married him," she said. "It was in our vows!"

She says she's also found some of her best stuff on the side of the road.

Raising three sons as a single mother, she says one of her sons once asked why his clothes had tags on them-- she'd been buying used clothing for them their whole lives that he had no idea that new clothing had tags!

Now that's thrifty!

As all three of us make our way to the door, Heather spots a floral Hawaiian print dress that she tells me would be perfect on me. She grabs it and holds it up to me, I cave in and try it on-- even though I'd been secretly eyeballing it the moment I walked in.

A PERFECT FIT! AND POCKETS!

Done.

I love those serendipitous stops like this where all the stars align-- a great conversation, a great shop, a great dress and great photos!

Back on the road, I set my sights on Freeport, where my friend Matt told me I could find a great thrift shop he once went to that's just across the street from the LLBean outlet. 

Boy was he right!

I easily found the the Freeport Community Services Thrift Store right where he told me it would be, and just as I stepped out of my car, the manager Lynn was standing with a customer in the parking lot. "I like your car!" she said, pointing to my Goodwill stickers. Well that was easy! I give her a quick rundown of the project and she's eager to take me inside and show me around. 

Not only do they have this store, but it's attached to-- and supports-- a community center. Built six years ago, it's housed in three restored historic Mallett houses, which were origianlly built by E.B. Mallett, a Freeport shoe manufacturer. He built about 200 of these homes for his employees to live in during the 1860's and 1870s. Only a few of them remain. 

Lynn takes me on a tour of the building, which also houses a teen center, a food pantry, the town's archives and a giant community room. 

They recently expanded to an annex, which houses their donated antiques and furniture. Lynn hops in her car and tells me to follow so I can take a quick look. 

What greets me as I walk in-- an antique lobster trap. A LOBSTER TRAP!

Hello, Maine! 

You wonderful Subaru-driving, dog-loving, kayak-owning, seafaring, lobstah-trapping, thrift-loving MAINE!

I get a call from Jane, my Goodwill contact in Portland and we make a date for dinner at a place where we can get a tasty lobster roll. She pretty much read my mind.

I have to admit, I've been looking forward to this part of the trip for this exact reason.

With brown sugar butter sauce? Whoa boy, was it tasty! Thanks Jane and crew for showing a gal a good time!

Sure beats eating a sad bag of microwave popcorn in a lonely hotel room.

So I leave you tonight in Portland, Maine, where I'll check out a nearby Goodwill store in the morning before heading south(!) finally to Boston. 

The end of the lower 48 thrift tour is nearly complete-- one week left!

Nighty-night!

Sunday
Apr212013

A surprisingly active thrifty Sunday! 

This morning I woke up from the most rock solid sleep I've had in weeks, in a cozy guest bedroom of family friends in Vermont. Armed with their recommendations, we all three piled in HaRVey2 today bound for a grand circle of stores we hoped would be open. 

And guess what-- THEY ALL WERE! 

Just down the road from their home was Robert's Thrift Shop, in Bradford, VT. I'd surely have never found this place without their help since it's off the beaten path, around the corner and in a basement portion of a buliding off the main drag.  

The cashier leads me back to a TV room at the back of the store, where I find Robert himself, watching TV and doing crossoword puzzles. He tells me that he started the store by selling stuff from his own home to benefit the local annual fair, for which he was a board member. The store benefitted the Connecticut Valley Fair until recently, when the store switched to funding the Orange East Senior Center, which provides meal delieveries in the area.

He has lots of reasons he thinks folks should thrift shop more, but especially that it keeps things out of landfills. "A lot of products don't break down," he said. 

He also accepts food donations, which are given to needy customers for free. Today he has a box of cereal available. 

The store itself is a maze of stuff with a holiday room in back. You could certainly spend some time digging around here and it's certainly worth a look just for the experience of it. In the front room I spot old liquor bottles shaped like historial figures like Betsy Ross, proudly sewing her flag. There's also a porcelain bust of Clint Eastwood a la Dirty Harry and some cute emboidered kittens on dishtowels. If you know me, you know I can't pass up a cute dishtowel! 

Back in the car we take some winding roads toward Hanover, New Hampshire, home of Dartmouth College and therefore, a very necessary stop. The neighboring town of Lebanon, New Hampshire is where donations from the nearby college usually end up, so I poke into Listen Thrift Store to see what I can find. 

Inside I meet Ruby, the store's longtime manager who actually shopped here as a teenager herself. She's in back helping sort and accetp donations on what seems to be a really busy day-- especially for a Sunday!

The donations roll in at a steady pace as she tells me about the services the thrift store is able to provide to the community, as well as the food pantry the keep in back.

As it turns out, her daughter Angela is shopping out front, so I go introduce myself. She says she grew up in this thrift store since her mom worked here, and shopped here from an early age.

"As a kid it was a little embarrassing, but I also loved it," she said. She started volunteering alongside her mom at age 9, and is currently looking for things for her own 12-year-old daughter.  

The store is packed with people-- packed. And packed I spot a Betty White t-shirt hanging on a wall, which I can't even think about leaving without.

As I approach the checkout counter, I see a box of apples and peppers, with a giant FREE sign.  Also, there's a stand of bread products, including a loaf of french bread, a piece of pumpkin pie and a whoopie pie-- ALL FREE!  

Uh, yeah-- that whoopie pie came home with me. That's precious road food for tomorrow's drive to Portland, Maine!

Back in the car, we stop at a truck stop for lunch, then head to Concord, New Hampshire to take a gander at the Goodwill there. There's all sorts of new(!) gardening equipment and decorations ready for spring blooms.

I'm starting to see a LOT of Boston Red Sox stuff--t-shirts, glasses, hats-- so I know I'm getting closer and closer to the Bay State. Just as I stop to chat with some folks I spot a three-point hat for sale off in the distance-- oh, so New England.

It's near the end of the day, but there's a steady stream of folks browsing the aisles. 

It was a super productive day, so we ate dinner at a Chinese buffet nearby and started the two hour drive home again.

Three stores, four hours behind the wheel, two nights in the same bed and one very tired girl.

Tomorrow-- a drive to PORTLAND and hopefully a little lob-stah!  

Saturday
Apr202013

Thrifting is so VERY Vermont. 

I woke up this morning and had to take a minute to look around and orient myself. Normally I'm pretty good at this when I travel, but I guess I've hit a wall where I'm now starting to forget where I am each morning. Luckily I have Facebook to remind me, when I type in a status and it posts my location automatically for me.  

Oh, Big Brother.

What would I do without you?

My first stop of the day was a Goodwill in South Burlington.

When I walk in, one of the first things I see are gardening supplies! Hard to think about gardening when I woke up so cold I'm currently wearing three layers and a puffy vest, but nonetheless.  This store is teeming with people and carries a ton of new stuff, too.

Back in the shoes, I run into a family. Clifford, Julia and their seven-year-old daughter Jailyn, who is currently sitting on the floor trying on shoes. They say they're not regular shoppers, but they come in on occasion to check out what they've got.  

"She just burns through shoes," Clifford says, looking down at his daughter.  "So every so often we come here."     

I take a look around a bit for myself, and stumble onto a t-shirt with a wedding photo of Luke and Laura from the 1981 episode of General Hospital. I think a moment, pondering buying it for kitsch value or for a friend, but after a few photos I put it back, hoping it might find it's rightful home with a Luke and Laura fanatic somewhere.

I notice a mother and daughter browsing the dresses.  As it turns out, Kimberlee and her daughter Cali come here ever Saturday together, and have been doing that for the last 8 years.  

Cali finds a top and holds it up for her mom to see. "Do you like this?" she asks. "NO," her mom replies-- nearly instantly.  

"I'm honest," Kimberlee says with a smile.

Cali sums up why they shop here-- as she says, "since forever."

"Vermont is an expensive place to live anyway, so you may as well try to find something cheap," she said.

In the back there's a stack of brand new dog beds for sale and a whole wall of dog toys. I'm smitten. This place clearly loves their dogs-- and I'm so, so, SO missing my dog right now.  I see a squeaky newspaper toy for sale that reads "Dog bites man. Dog very angry." 

I can't resist.

It goes in the cart.

I check out with my dog toy and head to The Skinny Pancake, a recommendation from Cali. On my drive down, I notice folks are out frolicking in the parks, wearing shorts and even a car driving around with it's top down. What the what, Vermont? It's 53 degrees with a stiff cold wind. 

I finally find a seat at the bar where I order something called "The Love Maker." No regrets there, folks. If you're ever in these parts you should hit this place up. 

My next stop (also a Cali recommendation-- thanks, girl!) is Replays, a thrift store that benefits Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington.  

That's where I meet Marianne, a long-time thrifter who already has with a pile of purple tops draped over one arm. She says she shops here because she knows the money goes toward a good cause. And like so many others, the thrill of the hunt is a big reason. "I treasure stuff I get here more because, you know, you can't find that again," she says. 

The shop is packed with cute antiques one shelf along the wall is lined with wigs. They're available for customers with medical needs for them, and they often get re-donated back when customers finish their chemotherapy. 

With two stores under my belt for the day, I decide to make a special stop to treat myself for staying so on schedule. The Ben & Jerry's factory in Waterbury.  

Oh, the humanity. 

I've never even had that much Ben & Jerry's in my life, but I have to say, seeing it being made and getting a few tastes during the tour will probably cause an increase in ice cream purchases after I get home. 

A little Raspberry Truffle and a Liz Lemon Sundae later, I head to Newbury to meet family friends who have been big supporters of the trip and have offered to put me up for the night. It doesn't hurt that they're also big thrifters and have a long list of suggestions waiting for me.

The roads leading there make me feel like I'm in a car commercial, except with more moose and snowmobile crossing signs.  

So I leave you tonight somewhere far from an interstate where I get to sleep in a non-hotel bed and eat meals that don't just consist of popcorn and diet soda.

One more week!