The Village Discount Outlet: A Thrifter’s Survival Guide

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The Village Discount Outlet is not your Belmont and Clark, “thrifting.” There are no washed, handpicked, vintage jean jackets categorized and neatly hung on racks. There are no edgy themed window displays. There is no rock music blasting. There aren’t even any dressing rooms.

Shopping here is time consuming. It requires patience and the ability to leave your sense of smell at the door. Sure, there will be unattended children running rampant. There will be elderly women who refuse to move their carts out of the cramped aisle. But, there will also be the chance to find some really cool, really, really, really, cheap stuff­. Stuff that those Belmont and Clark stores are selling, freshly washed and mended, for, at least, double the price. Throughout my years braving the stench and grit, I’ve snagged a Victorian wall mirror, an Oscar De La Renta silk scarf, china glass teacups, 1980 Brooke Shields Calvin Klein jeans, ugly Christmas sweaters, Cameo necklaces and earrings, and more — for never more then $5 per item.

With six stores on Chicago’s northside, four on its south, and four in the suburbs, the Village Discount Outlet is a heavy hitter on the thrift store scene. At first, shopping at the Village can be a little overwhelming, so, here are some tips that’ll make navigating your way throughout any one of Chicago’s locations a lot easier.

1. Take a deep breath and, attend a 1/2-price sale day.

The price tags at the Village are small, colored, pieces of paper stapled or taped onto whatever is being sold. Each day, every Village location has a sign that lists three colored tags that are half off. This means, anything in the store with one of these tags on it is half off. Yes, even if it is already .60 cents. There is no real logic as to what items are labeled with which colored tags. The stores try to keep certain items united by tag color—housewears, children’s sweaters, men’s ties. But, if you find two, almost identical t-shirts, with different colored tags on them, don’t be surprised.

This lack of logic or reason is why I suggest going to do your serious thrift shopping on one of the Village’s half price weekends. Around each holiday all Village locations mark their entire store off by 50 percent. To say the place is hectic is an understatement, so, get there right as the doors open at 9am on Saturday or 10am on Sunday. The days of the Village’s half-price weekends can be found by checking out their website or by visiting one of their many locations.

2. Don’t be afraid to find a mirror and try the clothes on.

Like I said, the Village doesn’t have dressing rooms. By no means dress up for the occasion to thrift. Wear shoes you can slip off, with thin socks, and an outfit that clothes can be easily thrown over. Ignore the fact that you feel as if you may get lice at any moment.

All sales at the Village are final. Since everything is so cheap, this really doesn’t matter. However, if you’re like me, you can get a little carried away with the fact that everything is so cheap and end up shelling out way more then you had expected for a plastic bag full of sun dresses that don’t fit.

If you look hard enough you’ll find a variety of dirty full-length mirrors throughout the store. Find one, park your cart in front of it, and put whatever it is you’re planning to buy on over your clothes. Believe me, you won’t be the only one around doing this.

3. Check everything you’re about to buy and then, double check it.

The items sold at the Village come as is. Unlike the more upscale resale shops throughout the city, they are not being checked for things like stains or broken zippers. That’s why it’s your job as the thrifter to look for these things yourself. Check the underarms, the waistbands, the zips, buttons, and snaps of anything you plan to buy. Then, make sure to turn your garments inside out. You never know what you’re going to find.

Another thing to decide is just how much work your willing to put into what you’re buying. What I mean is, if the flannel button up you just have to have is missing a few buttons, are you really going to head to your local fabric store and fix it? If you can’t sew, are you willing to take that great floral print dress to your local tailor and pay $15 to get it hemmed? Sometimes putting in a little bit of money into what you find at the Village is worth it but, sometimes, it isn’t. Make this decision before you buy $10 worth of park district basketball t-shirts that, a year later, you never got around to crafting into a t-shirt blanket.

4. Start down and work your way up.

Some of the Villages, like the location on 2043 W. Roscoe, have a downstairs or upstairs section that often contains records, shoes, books, furniture, and other knick-knacks. The stores are not equipped with elevators so moving your shopping cart from one floor to the other is impossible.

I’ve found that the basements and upstairs portions of the Village are usually less crowded and contain items that don’t require as much of your attention as, say, their clothes. This makes the basements and upstairs quicker to navigate and a good place to start. Plus, there are signs that say items from one floor are not allowed on the next. Besides the sign, these rules are not enforced.

5. Master Card, Visa, and debit cards are accepted.

With that, I leave you to visit your nearest Village and do some serious thrifting of your own because, as long as you have access to a washing machine, it’ll be worth it. Trust me.

Erin Nederbo

About Erin Nederbo

Erin is a current writing major at Columbia College and a native of Chicago's Jefferson Park. Surrounded by Cubbie blue, she is often hassled by friends for being a White Sox fan. During winter, she keeps warm by eating Italian beef, dreaming of 16 inch softball, and reading Sandra Cisneros. Her creative writing can be found in Hair Trigger 33 Magazine.

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