16 August 2012

Thrift store review: Circle Thrift, Fishtown or South Broad Street

I want to love Circle Thrift, I really do. The space at the 2233 Frankford Ave location in Fishtown is large. The clothes are arranged by type and color. It's an actual charity shop with a charitable mission, as opposed to a fell-off-a-truck discount store or for-profit thrift store. The books and housewares are cheap; both locations are easy to get to via public transit; and the staff are friendly.

But the last few times I've been to the Frankford Ave shop, it's been overrun with screaming children -- I'm not "childfree," neither literally nor by inclination, but small children are "psychotic dwarfs with good prognoses" and require active attention in public. When my daughter was young and I took her shopping, I would tell her, "We're in a look-don't-touch store" and help her control her limbs accordingly. And for a few years there, I didn't have the luxury of slowly browsing my favorite haunts to leisurely try on clothes and pore over the bookshelves. I would have to make a list and hit the thrift stores in surgical strikes, head purposefully for the area I needed to search, and call the trip off if I didn't quickly find what I needed.

What I never did was to leave my daughter to entertain herself in front of the shelves of toys, or wait until she was screaming with boredom and tiredness before we'd skedaddle, or let her pull clothes from the racks and leave them all over the floor for the staff to tidy up. Circle Thrift, though. Ugh.

Unfortunately, it's not just screaming kids destroying merchandise. It's also that the music is generally turned up way too loud, even for hipster Fishtown. The South Broad Street location, at Federal Street, suffers from its small size and low, basement-level ceiling. The clothing tends to be older, shabbier, and less up-to-date than some other thrift stores. And in Fishtown at least, they don't seem to have an effective strategy for helping the homeless or troubled who come into the store. (I'm not a thrift store employee or manager, but I think the answer is not to let the person browse to their heart's content and try on clothing, which spoils the merchandise and deters other patrons from shopping. The shop can fulfill its mission to help a person in a dire condition without permitting a cat piss man situation in the store.)

I think my best bet will be to hit Circle Thrift earlier in the day, to avoid the little kids running around. And it's not the best place to rely on for clothes; it's better for clothing accessories (e.g., handbags), and for dishes, housewares, and linens.

Happy thrifting!

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