Ms. Novak (who goes by Mimi), a city planning consultant who lives in Oakland, can’t pinpoint exactly when she started frequenting thrift stores, but she knows when it became a bit of an obsession. It was in the mid-90s, she was getting married and she didn’t want to wear a frilly, fluffy dress. She noticed a surplus of elegant 1950s wedding dresses hanging around local thrift shops and undertook a quest to find a non-frilly matrimonial gown. She ended up getting married in a 1960s velvet frock that she guesses she paid around $15 for.
Over the years, Ms. Novak has found some weird stuff. At Ohmega Salvage in Berkeley she unearthed a pair of oversized wooden cut-outs of a king and queen that she was told were refugees from Children’s Fairyland in Oakland. They decorate her living room now. She was told that a thrift store in Martinez was given a live horse, which they accepted and found a home for. And in Sonoma especially she’s discovered historical Bay Area relics, like old farm signs and other agricultural remnants.
“They have little stories,” she says of the items that make their way back home with her. “They’re mysteries to me. When I see something, it has to speak to me and stick out in my mind and be unusual and beautifully crafted. I wonder who owned them and why someone in their family didn’t keep it.”
Her favorite item? A costumey Asian headpiece encrusted in (probably fake) pearls, sequins, and tassels.
Ms. Novak’s fellow rummagers are a wide-swath of society: people shopping out of necessity, pickers, people who sell things on eBay, collectors, and fellow vintage fans who frequent the stores looking for the adrenaline rush that accompanies a new discovery. Then there are the people with smart phones taking advantage of apps that are meant to instantly divine the worth of any given object.
For anyone thinking of becoming a thrift store regular, Ms. Novak recommends honing your eye. If you’re looking for clothes, for instance, keep an eye out for wool, silk, and cotton. Skip the rayon and polyester. She’s seen what becomes of those who aren’t choosy: they end up filling shopping carts with teddy bears that are destined to return to the thrift store.
Ms. Novak isn’t sure where they project will take her. She admits that she’s interested to see it grow, but for now she’s just on the hunt for her next favorite find.
How fun that we’ve been discovered by the press!