I’ve heard positive comments about the Library Thrift Store. “They have treasures!” “Their prices are reasonable!” “They get new things in every week!”
At the corner of Third and Avenue J, the store does a booming business. In fact, at times it’s so crowded that cars are parked out by the curb and in the empty lot across the street.
I like resale shops and antique stores. If you’ve read Why Stuff Matters, you know that I wrote an entire farcical novel about people and their obsessive regard for stuff. I enjoy pondering provenance. I’m fascinated by the inflated prices stuck on chipped dishes and stained tablecloths. Every time I drove by there I thought—Quick, Jen, get in there before they sell all their stuff!
But before could I stop in for a browse, I became annoyed with the library’s head librarian and was therefore not of a mindset to spend money in their silly shop. Here’s what happened:
My author’s copies of Why Stuff Matters arrived from England. The first thing a writer does at this point is donate a signed copy to the local library. This is what David and I had done with Old Buildings in North Texas, but at that time the head librarian had been out. This time, however, she was there, perched behind the counter. When I explained who I was and offered her my lovely book, she held out a reluctant hand, accepting it as if it carried germs.
“Thank you,” she said in a tone that lacked conviction.
“I’m available to speak at one of your Meet the Author events,” I told her.
I wasn’t comfortable putting myself forward, but in the name of publicity I was willing to climb the barrier. At that point I had prepared a talk that I’ve since given to readers’ groups and writers’ groups, and at several libraries across the state. Discussing inspiration, creativity, style, and editing decisions, it’s humorous and informative. I add readings of the opening chapters and take questions, which is always fun because I can be witty. It’s gone over well.
“We’re booked up months in advance.” Her words are reasonable but the tone is glum and her eyes don’t meet mine.
This unspoken negativity is one of my peeves. No without saying no. A slight so slight that only the most perceptive can perceive it. And why the attitude? At the very least a librarian should greet a writer with kindness and encouragement.
“Oh,” I said, disappointed.
I tell her it was nice to meet her and David and I leave the library.
“Why didn’t you ask her to put you on the schedule on her next open date?” he asks once we’re in the car.
“If she wanted me she wouldn’t have right away offered an excuse.”
“You’re too sensitive.”
“I’m just the right amount of sensitive.”
And that brief story is why I’ve been reluctant to support the Library Thrift Store. That was a year ago. That’s how long it’s taken me to get over the callousness of a stranger.
Wednesday afternoon. Hot midsummer. As usual, the parking lot is full. The nearest space is half a block up the street. I park, get out, and, before entering, take a few photos. What is it about this place that draws such a crowd? I’m about to find out, though I’ve made a guess based on the local demographic. Retirees abound in this part of Texas, which means people are dying all the time. And what do their middle-aged children do with the stuff left behind? Why, they donate it to the local charity shop! Dead people’s stuff. How delightfully morbid.
It’s not delightful. Out-of-style clothes. Costume jewelry, no gold or diamonds. Shelves of best sellers from the eighties and nineties. Sets of encyclopedias. The framed art is a letdown—prints bought at Kirkland’s, nothing of value, nothing unique. There is absolutely no item here that I haven’t seen a thousand times in similar places.
But I do have some positive things to say. The store is roomy and the overhead lights are bright, lending a sharp clean look. Also, jumble stores usually smell musty, but here someone has taken care that all the clothing is fresh and pressed. And though the framed work might not be quality, it has all been recently dusted. The few items I find that are of interest are priced fairly. So, as these places go, it rates highly on the Waldo resale scale.
But wait a minute. There’s a slew of people working here. Five gray-haired women behind the long front counter. Three men busy with brooms. Two women wiping surfaces.
There’s a door at the back that’s posted with a No Entry sign. I go on through to fine another large room. Seven long tables hold mixing bowls, wigs, cowboy boots, waffle irons, and pink flamingos. Stuff covers every surface and climbs up the walls. The room is so cluttered that it’s difficult to separate one item from another. A dozen gabbing people hang out around the tables. In a back corner a space has been cleared and three ironing boards are set up with three women ironing tops, pants, and linens.
I’ve seen enough. On the way out I don’t come across a single other customer.
And the mystery of why there are so many cars is solved. All these people who don’t have jobs anymore need something to do and an air-conditioned place to spend their time. Curiosity was eating at me and at least now I know.