Thrift Shops: the Best Places for Furniture Bargains (and for a Good Cause)

As you move into your first apartment, you quickly discover that furniture can be expensive, very expensive.  But, as a friend of mine says, furniture is one of those commodities that you can get at any price – it’s just as possible to have an aunt give you her old coffee table for free as it is to pay $1,000 for the very same “vintage” coffee table.

Of course, when you’re setting up a new apartment and you have almost no furniture and almost no money, paying $1,000 for a piece simply won’t do. You need to get a lot of furniture quickly, and at reasonable (or bargain-bin) prices. If the stars line up just right, you may learn that a family member has old furniture collecting dust in storage, or maybe you pick a great cast-off from the street, or hit lucky at a garage sale. But if that does not happen, your bargain hunt may turn into a Craigslist and/or Freecycle scramble.

Often, though, your best option is a thrift shop. They usually have decent quality furniture for remarkably low prices – and your purchase will benefit a good cause. It works like this: a thrift shop is run by a charitable organization that accepts donations from members of the public, who, in recompense for their donation, get a nice tax write-off. The shops are then able to re-sell the donated items to shoppers at very cheap prices … and all the proceeds go to the charity.

When you look for thrift stores, the best ones are often run by local charities. So, we thought we’d highlight our favorite thrift shops in the three largest cities.

Housing Works – New York City

This New York City-based advocacy group was founded in 1990 in ensure that low-income and homeless Big Apple residents living with HIV/AIDS received proper housing and support services from the City. Housing Works also lobbies for city funding decisions that support HIV prevention.

As part of their fundraising efforts, the organization has a bookstore/café on Crosby Street in the Village, that has all sorts of cool events (such as Moth readings), as well as books for sale. But, most apropos for the furniture hunter, there are Housing Works thrift stores spread amongst Manhattan and Brooklyn. So, not only can you shop for a good cause – you  pick where to do it. You can even bid for some of their items on online auctions, and if you win, pick up your purchase at a store location.

Housing Works is very picky about the donations they accept, so they tend to have higher quality, and may be a little pricier, compared to some other thrift stores.

National Council of Jewish Women – Los Angeles

As the name suggests, the NCJWLA advocates for women. It was founded in 1909, and has taken on causes as diverse as suffrage, equal rights for women, child care for working women, welfare reform, domestic violence laws, and legal rights for immigrants. The NCJWLA also works with at-risk teens.

And, they also run one of the highest-rated chain of thrift shops in Southern California. They have six locations in Los Angeles, and three in the San Fernando Valley. And all of them are open seven days a week!

Brown Elephant – Chicago

This Chicago-based thrift shop is part of the Howard Brown Health Center, which is the Midwest’s leading health care organization for ensuring that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals receive proper health care.  As the years evolved, so did the Howard Brown Health Center, which now provides a range of medical services and offers them on a sliding scale so that they remain affordable for uninsured, or under-insured individuals.

They also, of course, have one of Chicago’s best chains of thrift shops: Brown Elephant, with locations in Lakeview, Andersonville, and Oak Park.

Other Thrift Shops

Of course, if you don’t live in Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles, there’s ways to find thrift shops in your area. The website The Thrift Shopper has listings of over 10,000 charity-based thrift shops nationwide – simply enter your zip code and a directory will pop right up. Another way to find great thrift shops is via Yelp – or, you may just stumble upon one in your area. Often hospitals have thrift shops, and of course there’s always Goodwill and the Salvation Army with stores all over the country. Regardless, wherever you go, enjoy your furniture hunting, and know that your dollars are going to a good cause.

If you have a favorite thrift shop in your area, spread the good word and drop us a note in the comments.


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Author My First Apartment

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Alex has rented in Minneapolis, Queens, Brooklyn, and now Chicago. He can kill rodents and roaches when required, and loves picture-hanging projects. If you're ever in town, give him a shout.

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