These Detroit Thrift Stores Turned Out To Be More Than I Bargained For

These Detroit Thrift Stores Turned Out To Be More Than What I Bargained For - Wading in Big Shoes
Let’s talk about thrifting! Thanks to the commencement of hibernation season (wake me in four months when the sun comes back out), I’ve naturally been spending more time indoors and as a result, have been delving deep into the realm of YouTube. One minute, I’m learning how to organize my kitchen junk drawer, and the next, I find myself lost in a vortex of “Thrift With Me” videos. I ain’t mad about it.

I’ve always enjoyed finding good deals, so estate sales and used book events are all ongoing concepts in my lifelong shopping vocabulary. Thrifted clothing, on the other hand, is a process I’ve dabbled in, but always found to be a bit frustrating. You need to be patient, do your research, have an open mind, and most importantly, not give up when you don’t find exactly what you’re looking for. It’s a process for sure, but if you’re in the right place at the right time, you can stumble upon some real treasures.

A few weeks ago, after absorbing the knowledge of approximately 37,000 thrifting videos, I felt ready to work some second-hand magic of my own. I drove out to some of the wealthier Detroit suburbs, because according to the cardinal rules of thrifting, rich people have nice stuff and when they donate that stuff, you can subsequently purchase their nice things on the cheap. Little did I realize, however, that everyone and their pet chihuahuas also follow this cardinal rule, so finding true “diamond in the rough” pieces in wealthier areas turned out to be more difficult than I’d hoped. Despite looking at racks of clothing through the eyes of “this has potential,” a lot of second-hand shops in these areas were either very picked over, overpriced, or curated to the point that they no longer resembled thrift stores at all (at least, in the traditional sense).

These Detroit Thrift Stores Turned Out To Be More Than What I Bargained For - Wading in Big Shoes
Above: Thrifting in some of Detroit's wealthier neighborhoods proved to be a challenge because inventory was often very expensive or very picked over. With the exception of this phenomenal sweatshirt, of course.

It’s okay. We move on to see another bargain-hunting day.

Despite leaving my first thrifting excursion of the year empty-handed, I remained hopeful. I knew that great deals often pop up at unexpected times and in unexpected places, so when Brad suggested we try thrifting again a few weeks later, I pulled out my phone and started researching. Unsurprisingly, some of Detroit’s more affluent neighborhoods promised a scattering of thrift-ish boutiques, but my eye was caught by a few decently-rated places closer to downtown. Brad and I were also in the mood for a day in the city (surprise, surprise!), so I plugged in our route and off we went.

St. Vincent de Paul

These Detroit Thrift Stores Turned Out To Be More Than What I Bargained For - Wading in Big Shoes
Our first stop was St. Vincent de Paul on Gratiot Avenue in Detroit (located down the block from the Heidelberg Project). This place had great ratings online, but because most of those ratings actually talked about the onsite family center, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the thrift shop. We parked around back (there’s a designated lot, so you shouldn’t have to worry about street parking unless it’s really busy) and headed inside to check out the inventory.

When we first walked in, I was a little surprised to see how small the store was. There were two rooms: The first was about the size of a convenience store and housed things like knick-knacks and home decor, while the second was mostly clothing. I went straight for the clothing and after a brief glance didn’t see much that interested me, so I headed back to the first room and found Brad looking through a collection of CDs. He held up a brand-new, never-been-opened Jonas Brothers album (the one that came out last year, guys, not one from the Camp Rock era, OKAY) that was priced at a whopping ninety-nine cents. Not being the fancy kind of people who subscribe to Spotify premium, we immediately plopped that sucker (no pun intended) into our newly-formed purchase pile and looked around to see what other deals we could find.

These Detroit Thrift Stores Turned Out To Be More Than What I Bargained For - Wading in Big Shoes
An invisible force drew us to the kitchen tchotchkes, where we cleaned up on fun coffee mugs that featured Muppets, Baby Yoda, and even Daniel Craig designs. Not bad for a 10-15 minute shopping spree, no?

Saint Vincent de Paul Detroit: The Haul
4 Coffee Mugs @ 99 cents each = $3.96
Jonas Brothers CD = $0.99
Total (before tax): $4.95

Salvation Army (Fort Street)

These Detroit Thrift Stores Turned Out To Be More Than What I Bargained For - Wading in Big Shoes
Energized by our surprisingly-successful start, we drove over to a Salvation Army on Fort Street for round two. This store is located down the street from my beloved John King Bookstore, so if you’re in the neighborhood, be sure to check them out, as well!

We walked into the store and oh my wow, what a mecca! With rows and rows of well-organized textiles, there’d be no shortage of clothing options in this cave of wonders. Brad informed me that he was going to look at the odds and ends, but I barely heard because I was already elbow-deep in racks of t-shirts.

These Detroit Thrift Stores Turned Out To Be More Than What I Bargained For - Wading in Big Shoes
Lemme tell you guys—we were probably in this store for close to two hours, and I could have stayed even longer if I’d decided to search everything more thoroughly. While the few aisles of home and kitchen items were okay (in my opinion, these things could’ve been priced a little lower for what they were), the clothing was where it was at. The brands ranged from Wal-Mart and Target to Madewell and Calvin Klein, and the variety was wide enough to put together all kinds of current, on-trend looks (something that’s not always the case in second-hand shops!). Plus, if you go on the right day, you can get some extra discounts (i.e., white-tagged items were 50 percent off the day we visited). I snagged a few tees, a pair of jeans, and a couple of vinyl albums to play on the new record player I got for Christmas.

Salvation Army (Fort Street Detroit): The Haul
5 T-Shirts (each ranged in price from $0.99 - $4.99) = $14.45
1 Pair of Madewell Jeans = $4.99
2 Vinyl Records (both priced at $0.99 but one rang up for THREE CENTS!) = $1.02
Total (before tax): $20.46

Salvation Army (Mexicantown)

These Detroit Thrift Stores Turned Out To Be More Than What I Bargained For - Wading in Big Shoes
After starving poor Brad during my 120-minute escapade through the Fort Street Salvation Army, I obliged to an early dinner in Mexicantown. We refueled with tortilla chips and quesadillas, then agreed to swing by one more thrift store before heading home for the evening. On to stop number three: The Salvation Army Family Store & Donation Center on West Vernor Highway.

I would like to take this time to say that you can never predict what a store will be like just by looking at it from the outside. This Salvation Army appeared to have a dim, yellow glow coming from the windows, which honestly didn’t look very inviting. The moment we stepped inside, however, I realized that this was the nicest-looking store we’d been in all day! Tidy and well-organized with stylized end caps that felt more retail than rummage sale, the store created a welcoming atmosphere that pumped me up for some next-level deal-hunting.

These Detroit Thrift Stores Turned Out To Be More Than What I Bargained For - Wading in Big Shoes
Now, here comes the kicker: The clothing selection here was just as good as it had been in the other Salvation Army store we’d visited—I’d even venture to say that because this store was smaller, it was better curated than the first. However, after about an hour and a half of shopping, I ended up leaving empty-handed. *Cue the crying emoji*

There was nothing wrong with this store, and I genuinely enjoyed perusing the racks to find plenty of cute tees, jackets, skirts, and sweaters. After trying on a couple armfuls of clothing, however, I decided that none of the things I’d picked out were the perfect style and fit for me. That said, I definitely hope to return to this store soon (maybe on a big markdown day!) to see what goodies come in on a later date.

Salvation Army (Mexicantown Detroit): The Haul
Oh. Nothing. (But lots of contenders!)
Total: N/A

My Takeaway on Thrifting in Downtown Detroit

Housewares, music, and wearables? Not bad for $25 and an afternoon of entertainment, in my opinion. I have to admit that I was initially a little hesitant to try thrifting in downtown Detroit, mainly because I had never really heard anyone talk about their experiences doing so (now I'm obviously thinking it's just a well-kept secret). Yes, there will always be recommendations for the trendy, heavily curated "thrift" boutiques, but those just don't offer the same level of discounts and thrill of the hunt . . . you know what I mean?

These Detroit Thrift Stores Turned Out To Be More Than What I Bargained For - Wading in Big Shoes
When it comes down to it, I think my shopping success on this trip had everything to do with the locations I visited. Downtown Detroit is central to a community of diverse, creative people—why would I expect anything less from the treasures hidden here?

If you've explored Detroit's thrifting scene, I'd love to know more about your personal experience around the city! Share your tips, and if you're willing, your favorite places to find some great (and affordable) hidden gems in the comments below!