The Seeker: A Thrift Store Diaries | Essay | Chicago Reader

The Seeker: A Thrift Store Diaries 

A thrift-shopper's diary

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I abide by strict expenditure limits while thrifting. Size, condition, usefulness--these things matter less than low price. To spare myself the agony of seeing things I desire that are marked beyond my limits, I don't often hit thrifts with better goods at better prices. But I stopped in the White Elephant anyhow, seduced by two blond mink throw pillows in the window.

I knew they'd be over my limit, but I just had to know for sure. Once inside, I was quickly distracted by an enormous item propped up in the back room. Five-and-a-half-feet wide and four feet tall, here was a heavily framed, professionally painted map of the United States. A few dozen towns were identified, and thick, colored lines ran between them like a connect-the-dots drawing. All roads originated from Springfield, Illinois, and a key below Texas identified each one as a campaign trail of 1952 presidential hopeful Governor Adlai Stevenson.

The illustration had faded in places, and the whole piece had sustained some moisture damage. Still, it was a mighty curious and tempting item. It had been framed in Washington, D.C.--perhaps it had hung in the campaign headquarters there. What a superb piece of 20th-century debris, but priced at $20, it was about ten bucks more than I ever pay for art. I lingered, fretting over the cost, but I was already falling. I knew I'd regret passing this up a mile down the road. I seized on my best piece of logic: "A frame this big is worth more than $20." Sold.

As I struggled across Lincoln with it, two people approached to tell me wistfully that they'd seen it in the Elephant and now wished they'd bought it. I warmed with selfish pleasure. Already this extravagant item was paying returns.

Store quirk: Though the staff is happy to discuss them, none of the elephant tchotchkes behind the counter are for sale.

Children's White Elephant

2380 N. Lincoln


Hours: Monday through Saturday 10 to 5, Sunday 11 to 4.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Dorothy Perry.


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