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Thrift Store Experiences


December 2000:

A lot has been said this past year about the end of the thrift store era being upon us, so I thought some comments on shopping for obsolete technology in thrift stores would be timely. It was 17 years ago this month when I first started thrifting, and rarely has a week gone by during that period that I haven't visited a few stores. It is true that the growth of the internet in general and eBay in particular have considerably lessened the chances of "scoring" in a thrift store, but another factor is simply the age of technology that people interested in CED may be collecting.
832A Vacuum Tube For example, 17 years ago it was not uncommon to find vacuum tube consumer electronic technology in thrift stores, but that type of equipment had practically disappeared by 1991, well before the explosion of the internet. I don't see thrift stores themselves disappearing anytime soon, as they can survive on the sales of clothing and kitchen utensils that aren't likely to turn up in eBay auctions. But just like 50's and 60's technology started disappearing 10 years ago, the days of finding 70's and 80's technology are coming to an end.
My interest in thrift stores began when my family moved from rural Appalachia to San Diego in 1983. Back in Southwest Virginia the only nearby thrift store was a tiny Salvation Army that had nothing but clothing. I did have some experience visiting road-side antique stores with my mother, but the only things they had of an electrical nature were rather expensive and bulky radios and glass insulators, which I accumulated a small collection of. Hemingray-42 Glass Insulator
Bubble Lights In 1983 I was collecting unusual Christmas light strings. These included bubble lights, fluorescent lights, ballast-bulb random twinklers, and flashing miniature lights that used a motorized distributor (not unlike the distributor in a car) to achieve a rapid flash rate. Someone mentioned that thrift stores were a good place to find old Christmas stuff, so I paid a visit to some of the stores in Chula Vista in early December 1983. I was blown away by the amount of stuff I found, and by the end of the month had visited every thrift store in the greater San Diego area. I even found some Holiday items I had never heard of, such as a rotating Christmas tree stand with an electrical outlet on the revolving cup, and a Bradford Snow Maker that "Guarantees a white Christmas in every home, regardless of climate."
This interest in Christmas lights soon led to my burgeoning interest in media technology. In 1983 I had a holiday light display that flashed in unison with background music from an audio cassette. I wanted a way to continually play the music, but the longest continuous loop audio cassettes then available were only 60 seconds long. I saw an 8-Track recorder in one of those thrift stores and got the idea to record the music from the audio cassette onto an 8-Track, thus solving the continuous playback problem. After the holidays were over, Christmas music 8-Tracks started turning up in the piles of 8-Tracks thrift stores had at that time, and I started collecting all the different holiday titles I could find. Elvis Presley Christmas Album 8-Track
Atari 2600 Pac Man Videogame Cartridge It's been interesting to see how technology available in thrift stores has changed over the years. For instance, from 1984 to 1988 Atari video game items only occasionally turned up in thrift stores, and were often kept in the glass display case. The occurrence of Atari-era video game stuff started increasing in 1988 and exploded around 1990 when the introduction of the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis caused most of the population to regard the earlier video game generation as worthless junk. For a couple years there were piles of Atari, Intellivision, Odyssey, and ColecoVision in thrift stores, so many that the carts sometimes sold for ten cents each, and rarely for more than fifty cents. This started changing in 1993 when the Atari-era games became hip with the Wired crowd, and it gradually became harder to find this stuff. Interesting enough, the Genesis and Nintendo games should be turning up in droves in thrift stores now, as they're about as old as the Atari games were in 1990, but this will never happen due to eBay and the public's change in attitude about old video games.
In conclusion, I'd like to comment on the trend with thrift stores to re-invent themselves as mainstream department stores. It used to be that each thrift store, even those in multi-store chains, had its own distinctive interior appearance, but in the early 1990's these chains started tearing down or remodeling their old structures. This has caused the individual Value Village and Goodwill stores to all have an identical appearance, just like stores in shopping malls. I haven't seen any CED's in a local Goodwill in a long time and wonder if this is really due to a lack of donations or just because displaying these doesn't fit in with the cloned environment. Fortunately, CED stuff does still occasionally turn up in Value Village. I found an SKT400 CED player at a Value Village just last month, the first time I've encountered that particular model in a thrift store. Value Village Thrift Store
Finders Keepers Thrift Shop One store in Portland that has retained its distinctive character over the years is the Finders Keepers Thriftshop at 12415 SE Powell Blvd. This store is similar in name to the one on Sesame Street and like that imaginary store, it gets some unusual stuff. The store belonged to Veteran's Charity until a couple years ago, and fortunately it didn't lose its character upon changing hands (sales in the store do still benefit Veteran's Charities, Inc.). It was at this store where I got my first CED player in 1987, and their electrical "cage" pictured below hasn't changed that much since that time. I've been thinking that it would be cool to have a series of pictures of this cage dating back to 1987, as a time capsule of how the merchandise inside has changed. It isn't possible to go back to 1987, but I'm going to start the series now. Look for a new picture every three months, at about the same time the Featured CED is updated.

Finders Keepers Thriftshop    •    12415 SE Powell Blvd.    •    Portland, Oregon   97236


Electrical Cage 12/2003 December 2003


Electrical Cage 09/2003 September 2003


Electrical Cage 06/2003 June 2003


Electrical Cage 03/2003 March 2003


Electrical Cage 12/2002 December 2002


Electrical Cage 09/2002 September 2002


Electrical Cage 06/2002 June 2002


Electrical Cage 03/2002 March 2002


In December 2001, I began using a swivel camera mount to pan the scene with more vertical and horizontal coverage.
Electrical Cage 12/2001 December 2001


Electrical Cage 09/2001 September 2001


In June 2001, I started using the new Photoshop Elements to blend a wider panorama.
Electrical Cage 06/2001 June 2001


Electrical Cage 03/2001 March 2001


Electrical Cage 12/2000 December 2000

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