Thrift stores have always been a part of towns, big or small. But with the Millennial’s flight into adulthood — and outrageous expenses, a sluggish economy, student loan debt, and the fascination with Indie music — thrift stores have vastly changed. Once the embarrassing sign of a lack of wealth, as in the faded jeans and out-of-date styles of 90s Goodwill, small-town thrift stores, such as those in Sonoma, gradually became a source of alternative culture.
No longer the epitome of “uncool” and “dorky,” thrift store culture is a purveyor of the casually put-on bohemianism of the twenty first century. More than anything, thrift stores are now a major source of pride in a time obsessed with “gluten-free,” “organic,” and “reusable.”
Growing up in the late 90s, I observed a definite rift between the budgets of mall-shoppers. Now, the differences between a thrift store shopper and a mall shopper are almost inconceivable, quality-wise; it is fascinating to observe the middle class of a small town flocking to thrift stores, not out of financial need per se, but for the gratification of localness and frugalness and sensibleness.
A counter-culture movement is sweeping Sonoma as it continues to sweep the greater California area: a movement emphasizing less is, in fact, more. An ironically non-mass consumer movement gave birth to the popularity of retail “vintage” — an apparent oxymoron.
In the evenings in Sonoma, the nights are cool and dry. A gusty evening might drive people inside, but in our small town, people are in congenial spirits all year long. In a local thrift store, a young girl with a cropped pixie cut stands, scanning the rows of books for an apparent winner. In the background, a soft Indie rhythm hums, flowing through the faint, nostalgic of old. Unfazed by the crumbling titles, she finds a particularly decrepit hardcover as she stands on her tiptoes.
It is “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens. “An essay,” she murmurs. At that moment, her friends stride over in pre-worn Doc Martens. In a rush of hot August air, mothers and parents join the whispers of boot-clad girls and long wavy hair. Several young men kneel before the shelves, weighing pewter plates, wondering aloud the meaning of “genuine antique.”
In this generation, second-hand is a common unifier of unlikely allies. Small towns revolve around the daily exchanges of brothers, sisters, neighbors, spouses, and their children. Afternoons are marked by the hubbub of small but busy ports, and thrift stores are no exception. Thrift stores bring together those downsizers and treasure hunters and style finders who are our brothers and sisters and neighbors and spouses and children.
Now, local thrift stores buzz with the eclectic perspectives of an eclectic group of people—a mingling of wealth, riches, affordability, and of course, chunky worn-in boots resembling a pair of Frye’s.
Thrift has become the new cool.