Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thrift Store Review: Salvation Army, the one on Virginia Beach Blvd. near Newtown Road

It's almost the end of the year, I'm tired, it's cold, I'm hungover...all qualified reasons to devote the next few blog entries to thrift stores in Virginia Beach and Norfolk.  I may venture further, but it simply isn't advised to get out of your car in other parts of Hampton Roads.

First up - The Salvation Army Mega-Store at 5524 Virginia Beach Blvd., just a biscuit's throw from the Norfolk border.  You can't miss it.  It's the biggest building in Virginia.

One can't justly review an establishment on the information gathered in one visit, so I'm giving you my impressions of this place based on several years of going here.  All different days of the week, times of the year/day, in various weather, with and without copious amounts of spending cash, etc.  Most of the stores I'll be reviewing are old friends of mine.  To me, thrift stores are like museums.  Museums that let you touch and buy the items on display.  I look through everything thoroughly - most notably, the books, audio/video tapes and records (if any), knick-knacks, electronics, furniture, framed art, and men's stuff.  Please keep in mind that I'm not a woman.  I'm sorry, but detailed information on the selection of woman's clothing, shoes, and accessories will not be provided.  It's pretty much understood that 99% of all clothing in thrift stores is unwanted junk.  If there's an obviously vintage piece of clothing, it will most likely be marked up to a ridiculous price.  Once in a while, you'll find a little surprise.  Something old, cool, cheap, and in good condition.  That's the only reason I keep returning.

Things change.  Layouts, prices, selection, staff members, etc.  Remember - this review is an amalgamation of impressions and experiences at this store over many years.  I'm not sure when this one opened.  It's not old.  But, I've been going at least once every 90 days since it opened.  I can't hit the thrift store circuit every week or month like some diehards do.  Too many people.  Too much junk.  Traffic sucks.  You get the picture.

Okay.  Let's commence.

This store is vast.  Too huge.  Mainly furniture and clothes.  Most of the time, there's modern Christian broadcasting, some sort of Salvation Army radio station, on the store speakers.  Yep. So, bring your iPod.

There's a book/record/tape room that is usually deserted.  The books aren't in any exact order, kinda, but not really.  The oversized art and photo books are too expensive.  Waaaaaay too much crime and romance fiction.  I mean, just recycle 'em.  Nobody wants 'em.

The records are currently smushed in little wall hanging racks...

The only way to look through them easily is to place 10 of them on the floor and keep shifting 10 into successive, "already viewed" racks (tee-hee).  I've rarely found anything worth listening to here.  I'm not looking for sealed butcher covers, just good 50s-80s stuff I don't have.  I've picked up all the basic, required rock records at local thrift stores since my hunting began twenty years ago.  Now, I look for one-hit wonders, non-major label releases, promo/dj copies, classic country, and just plain weird music.  Heck, if the album cover's hilarious, I'll buy it. Yes, I do hold the distant hope that one day I will find a butcher cover, but it will most definitely not be at this Salvation Army location.  All you'll find here is the typical thrift store record stuff.  You know...

Herb Alpert
101 Strings
Jim Nabors
Ray Coniff
Lawrence Welk
Kingston Trio
Andy Williams
Sing Along with Mitch
The Lettermen
Peter Nero
Arthur Fieldler
Johnny Mathis
Henry Mancini
Al Hirt
Nat King Cole
Dean Martin
Tennessee Ernie Ford
Harry Belafonte
Mills Brothers
Pat Boone
pipe organ
...and Christmas records

These no longer have any place or importance in the world.  Recycle the sleeves and melt the vinyl.  And here's the kicker...last time I checked, they all had $1.99 stickers on them.  I'll say it again and again, but it's something that peeves me beyond compare in thrift stores - records should be a dollar.  No more.  Less is fine, of course.  Flip through 'em if you must.  If you find something you don't have, it'll be worth it.  Just wash your hands after handling all that crap.

Search amidst the countless "Liar Liar" and "Jurassic Park" VHS tapes for something worthwhile if you like.  If you don't have the internet, you might find something here that will alleviate the pain of boredom for 89 minutes.

I have found a few good audio tapes for my car here.  Weird ones.  Search hard.  And always check if the right tape's in the case and the little soft cushion thing inside the tape is firmly attached.  They should be 50 cents.  Heck of a deal.

The knick-knacks are all mixed up.  Prices range from "Hmmmmmm, that's fair" to "Good God, that's insane".  I have no need for porcelain statues with the noses chipped off or mini African masks, so I don't linger in this area.  I used to.  Not anymore.

Don't buy kitchen stuff from thrift stores.  Unless it's a gift for someone you hate.

Furniture selection seems good.  You'll see at least one of those metal futon frames that they made 180 billion of in 1998.  And there will be an unplugged organ somewhere.  Expensive and dusty.  Only plug it in if you can rock it like Billy Preston.

Of course, there's always a middle-aged man in a beige windbreaker finagling with some piece of stereo equipment at every thrift store in the world.  Talking to himself and making a mess. At some point, a button will be pressed and you'll hear an extremely loud burst of radio static immediately followed by him saying something like "Oh, so that's what that does" and chuckling.

I have found a few good tour t-shirts here.  Sting and Michael Bolton.  99 cents each.  That's a fair price in my book. Search through the racks, but be warned, they're full of endless amounts of ugly, unneeded clothes.  Clothes that will most likely be sent to Guatemala next month.

The thing that grabs my goat about this store is the special, glass-cased, rare and expensive item section near the middle.  Here's where you can witness the dangerous, corrosive power of "Antiques Roadshow" upon the common thrift store treasure seeker.  Here, you'll find stuff that has no reason being in a locked case with completely unwarranted, astronomical prices. Check out these record prices....The Sound of Music soundtrack, with water damaged sleeve - $30.  A worn, faded Moody Blues album - $25.  A Dan Fogelberg album - $20.  I also spotted this...

Those are the pictures that were included in the Beatles' White Album.  Not just the first pressing in 1968.  I bought a new copy of the White Album in the late eighties at Lynnhaven Mall and the pictures came with it.  Sure, for somebody that doesn't know, $25 for individual 8X10, glossy pictures of The Beatles might be a good deal, but this is just one example of the wacky pricing of "collectible material" that you'll witness at this store.  As for the three price tags on the plastic bag...I'm stumped.  

I'm convinced that all Salvation Army store managers were told by their regional managers to look up any donated item appearing "vintage" on ebay, see what the going price is, and go with it.  Sure, lots of folks like me and you will probably scoff at the price, but it just takes one nutty fool to pay it.  That's all that matters.  

I know I may sound like old man penny pincher, but I have been behind people in line at this and other Salvation Army stores that complain and raise all hell about a dollar or two discrepancy in the price charged and the price listed on the tag.  I don't do that.  I can't.  It's happened, but I dismiss it.  It's a dollar. It's going to a good cause.  Shut up.  That's entirely different than the store asking a dumb amount for something.  Why doesn't the Salvation Army actually set up an ebay store for these high-priced items?  Somebody find out.

Old toys and ornamental items line these glass shelves with prices that would be out of place in any antique store.  I asked an employee to unlock a case so I could see an acoustic guitar. After a heavy eye roll and audible sigh, she obliged - remaining just an arm's length away so I wouldn't grab everything and make a run for it. I picked it up and strummed it.  Blllluuuuuuung. It sounded horrible.  Yeah, it was a child's guitar from the 60s and looked cool, but it wasn't playable.  There were dings all over it and the strings were about 2 inches above the neck.  I flipped the price tag around.  $200.  Non-negotiable.  Ridiculous.

If you're down that way, go in and browse.  There's lots of junk, but you'll probably find something good.  It's big and roomy, so you can easily escape any creepy person that seems to be following you.  Not at all like the place across the street.