In the past year, two thrift stores have opened up in the fertile crescent of high-end housing developments sprinkled around Interstate 75. Salvation Army entered the scene in February 2009. A Goodwill Superstore followed suit earlier this month. Both stores resell refuse from the residents of Plantation Palms and Seven Oaks. On a good day, you'll find plenty of brand names hidden among the 5K road race T-shirts and 1980s sweaters. But when it comes to presentation, layout and selection, Goodwill and Salvation Army have a totally different approach to discount retail. Let the thrift wars begin!
2390 Willow Oak Dr. • Off State Road 56, just east of Interstate 75.
A bright, clean, no-frills store, this Goodwill features cement floors, high ceilings and the tell-tale aroma of donated goods. In addition to gently used items, the store also sells new goods bought from wholesalers. The new products range from scented candles to inflatable airplane pillows. Goodwill is for serious thrift shoppers. The clothes are sorted by style and color, but be prepared to spend a while digging through dozens of racks.
27040 Wesley Chapel Blvd. • On State Road 54, about a mile west of Interstate 75.
If first impressions are everything, then Salvation Army is your store of choice. The thrift shop has carpet, neon lights and mannequins rocking gently used wear. (But don't look too closely, some of the clothes on display were stained.) Salvation Army doesn't sell new items, though some of the furniture was scratch-and-dent donations from Rooms To Go.
A wedding can easily cost a year's salary. Both stores had a very small selection of gowns, and to put it nicely, they were all of a particular taste. Think poofy sleeves and high lace necklines. If that's your thing, head to Goodwill, where the dresses were $140, cheaper than the Salvation Army's $199.
The Saver's Suit
With a good tailor, anything is possible, including transforming a thrift store suit into the perfect interview outfit. Goodwill had slightly more selection —and slightly cheaper prices — than the Salvation Army. It was also easier to find a two-piece suit at Goodwill.
Winner: Goodwill (by a nose)
Some think wearing other people's shoes is gross. Others listen to them gripe then show off their gently used $3 Nine West sandals. Goodwill takes the cake here. The store had more selection and more brand names. Salvation Army does deserve a nod for two pairs of so-ugly-they're-awesome '80s heels.
Business Casual on the Cheap
When it comes to your basic button-downs and slacks, the thrift store is a perfect place to stockpile. Just inspect closely for ripped seams and tears. A $10 blouse that costs $15 to repair does not a bargain make. Goodwill easily had more selection than its competitor. Added points for selling clothes with sales tags still intact.
With an Ikea a mere half hour away, local thrift stores have to hustle to compete. Goodwill and Salvation Army sell used glassware for $1 to $3, double what it would cost new at Ikea. Salvation Army has more furniture than Goodwill and gets bonus points for arranging it showroom style. But Goodwill had much more housewares, including new pillows, cushioned toilet seat covers and quilt sets. Aside from furniture, Salvation Army only had a few decorations, mostly pricey wall hangings.
Winner: Goodwill, because it sold this awesome pool table with a removable surface for playing ping-pong for $50.
Random Thrift Goodness
Sometimes you go to thrift stores with an item in mind. Other times you're seeking pure retail entertainment. Goodwill easily takes the cake for selling the most oddball items. There was a used saddle for $100, a $10.07 ski suit, complete with a March 23, 1999 day pass to a ski resort in Vermont, and then these 2008 presidential campaign socks, $3.99 for a pack of five.
Granted, thrift store shopping is a fickle science. On a different day, Salvation Army could have easily featured the better bargains. And as any thrifter will tell you, when you find the perfect shirt, shoe or suit for $4.99, it doesn't matter where it came from.
Helen Anne Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 435-7312.