Junkers Blues

It's Fall, a transitional time for the junker. As the salad days of yard sales, warm flea market mornings and spring cleanouts lead into the hoarding, barren days of winter, the junker can go through weeks at a time without a decent "score," which leads to withdrawal, the jitters, anxiety.

Which is just my schmaltzy way of saying that I'm going through a dry spell and it's driving me nuts.

It happens sometimes — all the good junk eludes you. Someone else hits the yard sale you didn't bother driving out to and scores a complete set of Mars Attacks trading cards or a lovely Heywood-Wakefield lazy susan coffee table, and in sets frustration. 

Illustration by Nathanael Roney.

In such a climate, junkers, a primitive nomadic community with many superstitions, look for something to blame. In my case, my ire is directed towards one of the principal totems of the industry – that behemoth that towers over us all, smiling its beneficent half smile in back-lit blue, black and white – the Goodwill.

Why rage against your fellow man when you can rail against the gods?

Goodwill is a giant presence on the junker landscape, indoctrinating many into the cheap and easy joys of the game, providing a constant source of new material and a beacon of hope around every corner. And while their massive presence is a cause for celebration for many (I know junkers who shudder in pleasure like kids seeing a McDonald's sign whenever they see that familiar GOODWILL font), I am beginning to resist their ubiquity. Junking is a small world (better, I maintain, than a mall world) and I'm beginning to think that Goodwill is messing with the ecosystem.

I want to make it clear that I am talking about Goodwill as a retail experience. Its efforts as a nonprofit organization whose stated mission is providing employment opportunities to the needy are outside of the purview of this column and shall not be commented on further, other than to say it's not easy having some badwill towards Goodwill. I feel like I'm biting the hand that feeds the world.

But to my eyes Goodwill is threatening to take over the thrift store "scene" entirely, driving out "mom and pop" shops and turning thrifting into one fluorescent-lit, neatly aisled slow trudge to the checkout line. My teenage sister-in-law sees a thrift store of any type and says, "Oh look – there's a Goodwill," like someone might say, "Give me a Kleenex," when they'd be perfectly happy to accept a tissue. 

Howls of indignation greet the opening of a Starbucks or an Urban Outfitters, but does anyone complain if a new Goodwill opens, concerned that it might have a negative impact on the ABCCM Thrift or Hospice Treasures? Nope, those shops' stock could continue to slip in quality and consistency while everyone blithely stocks and supports Will-Mart.

You can drive a 30-mile route starting in West Asheville and end up in Hendersonville and hit six Goodwills along the way. It seems to me that the net effect of all of these stores is that the product that comes in to the donation centers gets spread too thin, bringing down the quality of goods at each individual shop. I mean, how am I going to scoop up all the good junk on a Monday morning if I have to make six stops to do it!?

That last statement is of course tongue-in-cheek – Goodwill is under no obligation to provide product to a junker so he or she can make a living. But consider this: If it's Goodwill's stated mission to create jobs, then it shouldn't ignore the self-employed whose livelihood is recycling junk. Are Goodwill's forays into Ebay and its own online auction site, shopgoodwill.com, enough of a profit-base to counteract the impact on the junker culture in general?

All these elements work together to mess with the ecosystem. And we don't know the end result. Unlike the Greenhouse effect, the science isn't in on the Goodwill effect. But when the junk world collapses, do we want the response to this inconvenient speculation to be, "I had no idea!?"

This is probably my long cultivated suspicion of corporate culture butting up against my own loyalty to the Goodwill brand, causing cognitive dissonance in my junk-deprived brain. But, once again ,strictly in terms of the retail thrift store landscape, is nonprofit corporate culture any better than for-profit corporate culture, at least at a local level? And most importantly for my own tenuous grasp on reality — am I the only guy asking these questions?

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4 thoughts on “Junkers Blues

  1. Apron Thrift Girl

    I just wanted to say that this article really hit home for me. I think that I’ve had all of these thoughts in my head for some time but I never really put them all together to make the comparison that you did. I tend to avoid Goodwill at all cost except for maybe the Goodwill Outlet. At least you have a chance there to not only get some great finds but also get a bit grubby looking through the bins. Goodwill is too streamlined these days. Fabulous article.

  2. A.B.

    I’m glad someone finally said it! Not only are they soaking up all the good donations, they mark it up so high that even when you are shopping for yourself and not re-sale, it is sometimes ridiculous. Where I’m from we had good old fashioned retail competition in the re-use arena; Salvation Army, Value World (nee Value Village), St. Vincent DePaul, and many more independents. At these stores, there weren’t fixed prices. Tee-shirts did not cost more than clearance price at a box store. Items are priced at their perceived value. Therefore, a tee-shirt may cost .99, and when that color comes up on half price day, you have yourself a .50 shirt, with out having to dive waist deep into a pit of other people’s used unmentionables.

  3. Goodwill is a necessary evil, so I go there regularly. What I can’t stand is the inconsistency of pricing. A vcr or game might be one price at one store, and twice as much at another.

    I’ve been hitting the dollar a pound center hard and heavy lately. Partially for the goods, but also to build up my immune system!

  4. heels94

    While I wouldn’t classify myself as a junker, I am definitely a bargain shopper and have enjoyed the great deals and finds that Goodwill offers. Also, the Goodwill organization that has its stores in Asheville is Goodwill Industries of NORTHWEST NC. It is not affiliated with shopgoodwill.com and instead they keep their items in their stores so the benefit stays in the local community.

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