Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Charity Shops - they 'aint what they used to be!

No more gloom.

I hope to include lots of pictures tomorrow, today I'll talk charity shops.

My mother has only ever shopped for clothes in charity shops, I can't remember a time in my life where I've steered clear of them. I'm definitely a charity shop addict.

When I visit a new town or city, finding the charity shops is usually a priority. Clothes are my first port of call, but I am not averse to the odd bit of pyrex, 50's shot glasses, ramekins, milk jugs and general kitchenalia (is that really a new word? I don't like it). Books, I'm afraid to admit, I rarely buy from them, maybe 10 a year.
Charity shops, at their best, are like little museums, or time warps. Though you'll always find a Sharon Osborne autobiography, rails of 'Atmosphere' (Primark) blouses, 10000000 piece jigsaws, with the troubling addition of a piece of masking tape with 'CHECKED - ALL PIECES INCLUDED' written in biro on it (who is counting?) and worst of all, for me, those teddy ornaments, teddies peeping out of a basket or holding a heart, you will also always find, if you're patient and look hard enough, something  fascinating or worth buying.

Charity shops used to seem to be run solely by volunteers, usually middle-class elderly ladies. The stock was reasonably priced, no separation between 'vintage' and modern stock, the stuff would stink, and the bag would always be an inside-out 'Fine Fare' carrier. Now, they have a well-paid manager, who will be closely monitored by an even better paid Area Manager, the clothes are steam-cleaned, there will be lots of 'new' stock in the shop like keyrings, trinkets, notebooks and gifts and there'll be a posse of volunteers. Unemployed people wanting to keep their CV full, people with special needs, people on Community Service, people with mental health issues - all falling over each other (is this the case just in South Wales?). I'm not suggesting these volunteers shouldn't be there, it's just a shame there are so many in one place, and so few volunteering for more desperate charities.
Strict pricing guidelines have to be adhered to, but what makes a BHS coat so special that it's priced at £15.99 compared to a Jaeger one at £5.99 I do not know.

Don't know about you, but I wish they would stop fussing so much with the stock. T-Shirts and vest tops are ten a penny from the high street and Supermarket, being greedy with the pricing is a waste of time.

I can't remember the last time I went into a charity shop in town without someone trying to flog me a raffle ticket, sign me up for their 'lottery' or being disgusted by some of the prices.

Am I alone? Are the days where you unearth something of a hidden gem long gone? I hope not.


  1. The gems are so much more difficult to find now - totally agree, it seems that as soon as a shop gets a lick of paint and a laminate floor the prices go through the roof.

    Jem xXx

  2. They do count all the jigsaws bless 'em. I found a lego boardgame last week but they'd forgotten to write 'checked' on it - the lovely lady behind the counter opened it up with me and we checked every single teeny-weeny piece. It was only £1.50 (ok so I only saved a fiver and it wasn't Vintage Dollrockers but it did restore my faith a little bit)

    ps. I am dreaming lego at the moment - planning a themed birthday party. Can you dye marshmallows with food colouring do you suppose? Sorry, tangent...

  3. Replace the brand names and things are exactly the same over here. I have been known to take a pilly, crappy $25 dress to the counter to point out to the staff that the item would have been $18 NEW and they just shrug their shoulders and point out that they are not responsible for pricing.

    I liked it far better when you could have a bit of a rummage... you didn't mind taking home a bag of dusty, smelly old treasures as the clean up was part of the fun.

    Hey - we are becoming those 'in my day' old ladies!

    Sarah xxx

  4. My favourite thing about op-shopping (as far as clothes or linen is concerned) is to get it home, in the washing machine, and on the line. I love to see it blowing in the wind. Especially the pretty stuff. Nothing like a good airing to get rid of op-shop eau de nil.
    The smelly op-shops, the one's where my daughters say "muuum I'm going to be sick!", are always the best.
    I have just resigned from my volunteer shift at an (very sterile = boring) oppy. Six months of getting bossed around and doing all the work while my elderly "boss" sat at the counter drinking cups of tea (and I'm far from a 15 year old on work experience!) was long enough for me!

  5. love it!!

  6. Luce, you are definitely correct in your analysis of today's charity shops. I'm a bit of an addict myself (usually crap like CDs, vinyl, books and DVDs) and most of the shops have got a bit greedy with the pricing. They are also far too 'organised' these days (in in a somewhat disorganised manner). For me, the whole point of them is for people who don't want to or, more importantly, can't afford to spend heaps of cash to find a nice little bargain and make a contribution to a good cause at the same time. Now, they all seem to be in competition with one another and what with the pressure of the evil national lottery, thye all seem to think they have to 'up their game'. Consequently, they have just made things worse for themselves. Look at Oxfam book shops- they seem to think they are like some antiquarian collectors haven in Hay-On-Wye. Ridiculous. Puts you off. I've noted there are still a few bargains to be found in the shops in Penarth, if you're ever down that way. Blackwood is OK on occasions and the last time I was in Abergavenny led to some scores. No guarantees, though.

  7. Hello Lucy:
    Yes, we would say that your charity shop observations are absolutely spot on. Although we have never bought any clothes in them our bookshelves are groaning under the weight of our reading finds.No, we do not have a Sharon Osborne autobiography!!

    What we always wonder is what is going on in the back rooms of these places? They all have at least one, usually screened from public view and they seem, when one is able to catch a glance in them, to contain all manner of little goodies......could this be where the gems 'hang out' these days?!!!

  8. My dad used to be the official jigsaw do-er when Mum volunteered. At lot of our local chazzas take the jigsaws to old people's homes so they can have the fun of doing the jigsaws and it saves some poor sod counting the pieces.
    The majority of the independents still give out old carrier bags and pile any old crap out on the shelves. I image we'll be swamped with Primark cast-offs once it arrives in town.
    Although I'm not keen on the more upmarket charity shops in posh areas but the friends I've converted to second-hand shopping love them. They look like standard high street shops with smart window displays so there's no stigma attached to entering them. They are delighted to pay £40 for a Hugo Boss suit or a tenner for a Jermyn St shirt.
    I'm off to my favourite scuzzy suburb in a bit to rifle through the 50p rail, wish me luck! xxx

  9. My mum lives in Hornchurch so we always make a tour of the many charity shops on the High Street there when we visit. Many are still run by old ladies and some still have the old-style pricing system of token amounts. Others though, as you pointed out, put prices so high I'd rather just buy new for a bit more.

    I haven't seen a 'find' in one for a long time though. My last bargain was a Nero from Matrix leather coat for £10.

  10. I've been doing very well recently - in both clothing and homewares stakes. A full set of brand new Le Cruset pans for a tenner and a matching lidded casserole dish for the same - at different shops, 2 days apart - being testament to my belief that we are entering a new, golden age of charity shop booty, either that - or the 'right' generation are finally starting to slip this mortal coil, and their ungrateful families are clearing their lofts and wardrobes.

    There is a real cachet down here for bland M&S, which goes at absurd premium prices, but much better stock for peanuts - I also find it hard to fathom why an ugly Debenhams viscose tie with kittens on it can go for £4.99 and a brand new pair of Loakes shoes, unworn - retailing at £160, can be the same. I'm off to Bexhill this weekend for a full on charity shop tour - the first of the year, I have VERY high hopes.

  11. I agree! I always make it a point to check out clothing stores in new towns! =)

  12. There are still a few gems around. Narbeth in West wales has some good ones and Haverfordwest has a rich seam of shops with Seventies style clothing!

    But generally you're right - a combination of high rents and H&S nonsense has spoiled them. The other day I passed a sign that said 'Old fashioned Jumble Sale!' When was the last time you went to one of those?

  13. You are so right about the vest tops - the shops here always trot them out at this time of year. Still a few bargains to be found - if you time it right. I find the wee independent local charity shops, usually for a hospice, are the best!
    Liz @ Shortbread & Ginger

  14. Well, with the departure of childhood from our house and the discovery that the "Modern Gemration" seem to want to buy kids and baby stuff new, rather than be grateful for the passing on of barely worn useful stuff, i am mostly a donor rather than a customer these days. Barely a week goes by without a visit, lugging a sack of clothes, to cancer research or some such. I bought a lovely pair of dungarees for my daughter when she was 2 with all flowery patterns and all, from OshKosh in the US (where it is obscenely cheap) and I have seen a little girl in said dungarees which I confess brought a tear to my eye (and Luce: You know what a crybaby I am!)
    There does seem to be a preponderance of china ornaments in charity shops. I wonder if anyone ever really wanted china ornaments or if they are only ever given as presents to old ladies.

  15. Yep, know what you mean. Every charity shop seems to have the same books (Sharon's autobiography, The Da Vinci Code and assorted other Dan Browns, The House at Riverton is always there too.)
    And the pricing is so inconsistent, with no real reference to what things would have cost originally or the condition items are in. I'm sure there would be a much greater turnover of stock if the prices were lower.
    That said, it's still possible to find interesting bargains here in Sheffield, but I think you have to be patient and persevere. Once a shop does the whole clothes-by-colour on wooden hangers and a "vintage" section, you know you're doomed.... £10 for a nylon "vintage" tabard? I think not, Age Concern in Chesterfield!
    PS. How's your boy doing, Lucy? xxxxxxx

  16. I know exactly what you mean! I am often disappointed with the 'newness' of charity shops!

  17. It's mostly old-style charity shops in Dublin. The staff get the pick of the best stock apparently and it's also rumoured that you have to be in the know to have a chance of getting the stuff in the window, which is always the best stuff and is sold off one morning on a date that seems to be known only to a few chosen few!

  18. No charity shops here - just charity stalls at the car boot, so when I go to UK I have a little charity shopfest. There are one or two where you can still have a rummage for an old sewing pattern or similar, but mostly they are as you describe - very disappointing.

  19. The main problem with charity shops for me is that I keep buying 'nice' mugs, which I don't need! To judge by the stock in most of them 95% of the population must be female.

  20. I been dissapointed lately with all the charity shops too.
    I think the summer shall have better junk to discover.
    Thats why sometimes i prefer a good rummage at the boot sales.

  21. Eugh dont get me started on the highstreet charity shop trend at the moment - the ones here are more new stock than donated -all crazy prices. The bootsales seem to be the best bet for me at the moment. However there is still one CS here that i have a soft spot for - one of the lovely ladies there also let me into the secret that the manager reduces most of last weeks stock on a saturday morning to put on the £1 rail - guess where im going tomorrow morning! Scarlett x

  22. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


Sorry I am having to filter comments at the moment