Pssst! Listen up. You didn't hear this from me, but let me just say you'd better get over to Value Village. That's the thrift store at 4618 14th St. NW.
You know, the kind that sells donated bargain-basement junk and cast-offs to poor people? Well, it's not just junk and those are not just poor folk shopping around in there.
Recently, somebody said to me, "Pssst, are you hip to this?"
He opens up his almost new sports coat and says, "Garfinckel's had them for $250. I got this for 10 bucks."
The guy says not to tell that he shops at Value Village because he isn't poor. I'm not either, but you don't have to be to know a bargain when you see one.
Now, used clothes are not like used cars, and frankly, I was a bit apprehensive when I passed a rack of men's underwear.
Although the shorts had been washed and starched and set out on clothes hangers, they just didn't have that whiter than white look. But at a penny a pair, they didn't stay on the racks long.
"Some of them are new, some of them are used, some of them are 'next-to-new,' " said Doris Bell, the thrift store manager. "Everybody is looking for a deal and underwear is a very good buy."
Opting to stay away from previously owned clothes that actually touch my body, I moved over to the topcoat section. A crushed velvet, Edwardian style trench coat said, "Buy me and be like Prince." It cost only $2. (Weird as this coat was, a clothing store like the Soul Shack would try to get at least $150 for it.) It was too short for me. But somebody could buy it and, if they were smart, resell it at the corner of 14th and U.
The possibilities were endless, and so was the variety of wares. There were jeans by Calvin Klein, sweaters by Dior, shirts, blouses, shoes and hats that reflected the outdated tastes of a well-to-do citizenry.
"We don't put anything on the racks that are raggedy or badly stained," Bell says. "Items with small stains usually go for less than 10 cents."
In the last 10 years, Bell says, the nature of the thrift store clientele has changed dramatically, from predominantly poor to a mix that spans a broad economic spectrum. It is a shopping dynamic that you simply won't find at the Mazza Gallerie.
Inside the store, customers included a woman who had arrived in a white Cadillac and wearing double-belted leather pants and Italian, two-tone high-heel shoes. She was looking for an old-fashioned coffee bean grinder and left with what she came for, plus matching orange and lemon squeezers.
Another woman dressed like a bag lady left with a new hat, scarf, sack of used nylons and an armload of Harlequin romance novels. She handed the cashier a five-dollar bill and got change back.
I found Gore Vidal's hardback novel, "Washington, D.C.," and while the publisher's $17.50 was too much, the Value Village's asking price of 25 cents was just right. An unopened Lester Young album went for 50 cents, and I was ready to go. Then I caught a glimmer of machinery in the back. And there it was -- in mint condition -- a black, cast iron 1936 Underwood typewriter. At $32, it one of the most expensive items in the store, but it was love at first peck.
"The thrift store is the in-thing these days," Bell says. "You can find things in here that you can't find in a regular department store."
The reason is pretty simple. Every day, Value Village sends out three trucks to homes and businesses throughout the Washington area. Clothes and equipment, toys and games, are bundled up for a tax exempt donation, loaded and hauled back to the store. Employes wash them up and lay them out then price them according to style, season and condition.
While some well-to-do people express feelings of guilt about depriving the poor of bargains, the main purpose of the Village is to send money to the National Children's Center, which helps handicapped children.
Besides, there is enough to go around. Whole racks, for example, are devoted to a kind of Navaho plaid sport coat. More than enough. Customers examine the threads as if they were buyers from a London fashion house, proving the rule that one man's cast-offs are another's wardrobe.