The Stories Thrift Stores Tell Us

Let me introduce myself. My name is Jenna and I adore thrift stores. But not for the reasons you might assume.

I’m a lifelong thrifter. I have fond memories of going to the local shops with my grandfather to use his senior discount when I’d go for a visit. I’ll never forget the time we went and the store’s floor was covered with hundreds of pairs of used roller skates from a local rink that was closing. That was about as closest thing to heaven as my little 9 year-old eyes had ever seen. I was hooked.

Jenna Isaacson's All Thrifty States RV parked near a Phoenix Goodwill store

But in addition to being a lifelong thrifter, I’m also a former newspaper photographer now living and working in Washington, DC. Last summer with the help of Goodwill Industries® and a Kickstarter campaign, I spent 52 days visiting thrift stores across the country in an RV named “HaRVey” for my personal photo project, All Thrifty States.

I used my journalism background to scratch beneath the surface of stuff and get to the heart of what they really are—America’s collective closets. I’ve now talked to shoppers from all walks of life, documented all kinds of awesome items and recorded the sights and sounds of thrift stores in 40 states and I’ve loved every minute of it.

Hairdressing doll sits on top of a Los Angeles Goodwill clothing rack

To me, thrift stores are a great way to get to know a community and take the pulse of our nation. The items we donate say a lot about us, what we do, what we like, what we value and what we no longer need. Thrift customers come from all walks of life and reflect America itself in a lot of ways. They’re all looking for that perfect something, they’re all willing to do a little digging and they all have a good story to tell.

From what I have seen, thrift stores are frequented by a special breed of thoughtful shoppers for all kinds of reasons—conserving he environment, the variety available, the thrill of the hunt, and of course, the almighty dollar.

Exterior of Stratford, NJ, Goodwill store

In the stuff, I see stories. From the people, I learn more about the world. From the agencies funded by the stores, I learn more about how our gently used stuff helps people in so many ways. For example, 82 percent of the revenue raised through the sale of these donated items goes directly toward supporting and growing Goodwill’s critical community-based programs and services.

So come along with me in the upcoming months and see a side of your local thrift store that you might not think about.  A little bit of fashion, a little bit of history, a little bit of sociology and a whole LOT of America–there’s more on those racks than meets the eye!