The Seeker | Essay | Chicago Reader

The Seeker 

A Thrift-Shopper's Diary

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Ah, one of the old-time, hardcore thrifts--no air conditioning, a bare concrete floor, and a ceiling of dusty exposed plumbing. By early afternoon the narrow aisles are already strewn with discarded clothing and abandoned carts. I concede the linens aisle to a tougher shopper beside me. It's so tight in here I'm the only one who sees her stuff a tablecloth into her handbag.

I squeeze my way to the back. By the dishware wall, I watch entranced as a tiny, middle-aged woman carefully picks mismatched coffee mugs off the shelf. She hands them to her impassive husband, who lines them up along the bottom of their cart. Every fourth or fifth mug she stops and together they rearrange the chosen mugs, moving one against the other. Silently, through barely perceptible shrugs and nods, they acknowledge the keepers, those that somehow go together, and she returns the losers to the shelf.

When a man bursts out of the nearby book/record/junk room, they pay no mind. "Don't go in," he warns. "Damn, the funk!" I go in anyway. I'm tough: been there, smelled that. I flee gagging seconds later. It's that bad--like someone barfed sour milk. I pass the mismatched-mug pair. They've moved down the wall a bit and are now silently comparing patterned drinking glasses. I'm weary and oppressed by this place, but I have to tip my invisible hat to the couple. They're shoppers deserving of respect: oblivious to all distractions, quietly, diligently, and thoughtfully salvaging order from the chaos.

Store quirk: A handwritten sign by the pay telephone requests that customers "phone only 05 min please."

Village Discount Outlet

2855 N. Halsted

708-388-4772

Hours: Monday through Friday 9 to 9, Saturday 9 to 6, Sunday 11 to 5.

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

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