Adventures in Outlet Shopping: The St. Louis Edition

Adventures in Goodwill Outlet Shopping

Last month I had a chance to swing through some thrift stores in my home state of Missouri, where I found that FABULOUS whoopee cushion costume. Now that it seems Halloween will mostly consist of holding on for dear life, thanks to Hurricane Sandy. I guess I’ll just have to wear it around the house during Frankenstorm anyway, perhaps eating my own trick-or-treat candy out of pure necessity.

But I digress.

On that same trip I also had a chance to take a tour behind the scenes at the new St. Louis Goodwill® outlet, probably one of my favorites in the country.

The light alone in this place is amazing, unlike a lot of outlets I’ve seen — or thrift stores in general.  The exposed brick and giant windows make it feel like shopping in a gorgeous loft that happens to have the most random things you could ever love. My first trip here in 2011 with my best friend netted me one of my favorite scores of all time– a 1936 edition of Gone With The Wind, the first year it was published.

Bales of plastic to be recycled

Kirk Smith with MERS Goodwill invites me on a tour of the back room where balers are hard at work compacting plastic and clothing to be recycled. Stacks of colorful bales line the giant room, dwarfing even the heavy equipment used to move them around.

Pile of used cash regisers

Bins of old cash registers sit in a large box, awaiting their fate, rolls of receipt tape dangling from them like streamers at a long-ago party. I can’t help but see this as a sign of the ever more digital world we’re living in.

Woman holds pirate Halloween costume

Back out on the floor, I meet a woman named Raquel, who is proudly admiring the perfect Halloween costume she’s just found in the sea of blue outlet bins.

Korean Bible

Around the corner I start rummaging through some bins myself next to a man who has just found a Korean bible.  He thumbs through it curiously as other customers walking past us admire his find.  He ends up meeting a woman shopping who can read Korean. She excitedly accepts his offer to take it, thanking him before putting it in her cart with a giant smile.

I also meet Tahnh and his friend Michael who have never been to the outlet before. Their excitement for the place is infectious, even for a seasoned veteran like me.   Michael shows off his finds — two film cameras — and tells me about all the cool stuff he’s seen so far. The smiles on their faces tell me they’ve probably already visited this place more than once.

I love my home state just for these reasons — everyone here is so friendly and the selection of stuff is so much more varied than anyone outside the Midwest would imagine.

I also love being reminded by the steady stream of recycling that’s going on here. Even when donated things don’t find new owners, Goodwill is still finding a way to use them to make a difference for our planet and our communities.

Thrift on, St. Louis.  I’ll definitely be back.