Dear NoVa thrifting, why do you suck so much?

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Yesterday I left the house bound and determined. I was going to do it. The wealthy people surrounding where I live on every side have to be throwing their barely-used shit somewhere. There has to be good thrifting. My failures on previous trips had to be coincidental, or me not looking in the right places.

I made a list. Nine thrift stores, spread out throughout the suburb in which I live and the closest ones around me (Herndon-Reston-Sterling-Ashburn, for those in the NoVa know). Nine stores. Fortifying Starbucks. How could I go wrong?

I came home five hours later with nothing. Not a single blessed thing.

I wasn't out to be picky. I was looking for clothes for myself or Mark, small housewares (lamps, bowls, barware, kitsch), stuff for the pets, anything giftable...or just anything that caught my eye. I've spent thousands in thrift stores over the years. I am not a hard sell. And yet, nothing.

Let's break it down.

I started close to home, in Herndon. My first stop was at the Salvation Army Thrift Store (2421 Centreville Road, Herndon,‎ (703) 713-6691‎). In Austin, I never lowered myself to stepping into a Salvation Army. I don't like their politics, and I never found their stores to be all that anyway. Here, though, I was bound and determined to give all my options a fair try.

It's not a terrible store. It's large, well organized, and clean. There were some possibilities in the furniture section--nothing we needed, but a few things that weren't complete crap. The book section, though small, was well priced and had up-to-date books. The kids' clothes looked promising. But the housewares were dismal (think old off-brand Tupperware and glassware that obviously wasn't supposed to spend so much time in the dishwasher), and the clothes I looked through all seemed to fall into that unpleasant zone between vintage and current. Nothing for me there.

Next, I hit a charity store, the Herndon-Reston Bargain Loft (336 Victory Drive, Herndon, (703) 437-0600‎). The store benefits the F.I.S.H. (Friendly Instant Sympathetic Help) program. It's a small store in a mostly-abandoned office park. This isn't a bad place--it's mostly houseware type stuff, very little clothing. Prices are a bit on the high side, but I could definitely see the possibility of treasures here, in the "we got this out of Grandma's attic" vein. Though I didn't find anything on this trip, I'd go again. It's never going to be a place where I'll find a lot of stuff, but I could see running into an occasional treasure, and it's a pretty pleasant shopping experience (I'm pretty sure I was the only person under 70 there).

To finish out my Herndon rounds, I hit the two thrift stores I'd seen within a block or so of each other in what Mark and I persist in calling "historic downtown Herndon." The first is The Closet (845 Station Street, Herndon, (703) 437-7652‎). The Closet is a charity shop. Its story is kind of neat, actually--it's a joint effort between several local churches. It was the best store I visited all day--packed to the gills with potential. However, it was very crowded, and I got there at about 1:45 PM, not knowing that they close at 2 (the store is only open from 10am-2pm Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday), so I didn't get the chance to look around as much as I'd liked. I did see a pretty good book selection (I notice several current books on CD, which I don't see all that often), and a decent-looking craft section (lots of new-in-package stamping and scrapbook stuff). The clothes that I could get to looked to be pretty high quality as well, but the crowding made it hard to tell. I'll definitely try again another day.

The other downtown Herndon thrift store is FAITH (Ste 2A, 795 Center Street, Herndon, (703) 766-3396‎). FAITH stands for Foundation for Appropriate and Immediate Temporary Help, and the store benefits local humanitarian efforts through that program. FAITH is a Muslim-based program, though they will help anyone as per their website, and the store reflects that. It's a really small space, and I'd say about a quarter of it is dedicated to scarves, abaya, and similar clothing. Another large portion of the store is taken up with children's clothing and toys. I doubt I'll visit again, since neither of those areas of merchandise is of much interest to me.

Having exhausted my options in Herndon, I moved on to Reston. Feeling that the issue here may be that the locals are into consignment, I made an exception to my usual "no consignment stores" rule and hit Vogue to Vintage (1631 Washington Plaza North, Reston, (703) 787-5700‎). This is a nice little consignment store--I tried on a gorgeous leather jacket that was marked $30, and had it fit, I'd have bought it in a second. The store seems to cater to a slightly older clientele, and it's all women's clothes and accessories. I saw a few pairs of designer jeans, a Betsey Johnson bag, stuff like that. Nothing that I just had to have, but, as far as consignment stores go, it's probably worth visiting. As a bonus, there's a used bookstore and a children's consignment store (Small Change Consignments) in the same little shopping center. The center also houses the only indie coffee shop I've seen here.

After my consignment detour, I moved on to Sterling. In Sterling, my first stop was the Goodwill (22405 Enterprise Street, Sterling, (703) 444-5186‎). I tried this store once before and was unimpressed, but I thought I'd give it another shot. In Austin, the Goodwill was always the #1 go-to store. No need to give this one another chance--everything in here is old. Not vintage, just old. Worn out, sad, depressing. I was in the store for less than five minutes, just like the last time I visited.

The next Sterling stop was the Good Shepherd Alliance store (Ste 113, 20921 Davenport Drive, Sterling, (703) 444-5956‎). Once again, a store full of worn out stuff. I don't think I even picked anything up.

Finally, I headed to Ashburn. First, I attempted to go to the SACS Family Store (21673 Beaumeade Circle, Ashburn, (703) 858-2700‎), but I drove around a business park for fifteen minutes and couldn't find it, so I gave up. Then I went to the Ashburn Good Shepherd Alliance store (20684 Ashburn Road, Ashburn, (703) 724-1555‎). Much better than the Sterling version, this store had the most potential of any I saw, other than maybe The Closet. Decent sized, well organized, with some cool stuff. The neatest thing I saw all day was there--this awesome Melissa & Doug tree house toy. It was in new condition and was $45, which is less than half retail, so not bad, but not the bins. There were a few OK housewares (though nothing we need), and the clothes looked pretty good.

So, in summary:
Try again: The Closet (Herndon); The Herndon-Reston Bargain Loft; SACS Family Store (Ashburn); Good Shepherd Alliance Store (Ashburn); Vogue to Vintage (Reston)
Skip: Salvation Army (Herndon); Goodwill (Sterling); Good Shepherd Alliance Store (Sterling); FAITH (Herndon).

It was depressing. I can see the potential to maybe find something every once in a while. If I visit The Closet every week, for example, I'm sure I'll grab a few cool things. But it's clearly just not going to be the way it was in Austin. And my question is still lingering: where are all these upper middle class suburbanites dumping their barely used stuff? If anybody out there knows, please let me in on the secret!

3 Comments

Maybe they're not dumping so much of it right now because the economy is a mess?

Ugh! I know how you feel!!! I'll check out some of the places you found but the places i've been to are keeeeerap!
Don't even think about the 8ball place in sterling...its scary and NEVER has anything good and the crap furniture is PRICEY - not even sure who they benefit. The Blue Ridge Hospice in Purcellville is sometimes okay but their furniture is almost priced like new.
There are two in Leesburg that are hit or miss sometimes you find good stuff and they have decent prices - in fact i might check them out this weekend.
Thanks for this post!

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