You can find shelves filled with packages of shiny, color-coordinated ornaments in every big-box store. It’s easy and relatively affordable to create a polished, commercial-looking tree decked for the holidays.
So, why would anyone consider a tree adorned in second-hand items?
Because sometimes, the feeling evoked by a Christmas display can supercede its perfect looks.
That’s what shoppers search for and often discover at thrift stores, many of which have stocked a quarter to a third of their shops with holiday décor this season.
Kristy Lance, retail vice president for MERS Goodwill, says people come looking for deals, but also for vintage or unique items.
“In a lot of stores, I hear ‘I haven’t seen this ornament since I was a child at my grandmother’s,’” Lance said. She’s met with customers who decide to put up a tree in every room in their house because the ones at Goodwill are so affordable.
Anne Carr, store manager at Miriam Switching Post in Brentwood, has heard similar feedback from shoppers.
“They want to create a unique tree that not everyone else has,” she said.
The thrift store collects gently used Christmas décor year-round. They close the store for a Sunday in mid-November and go through hundreds of boxes to put out what they’ve stored.
It might include Baccarat or Waterford ornaments priced at a third of their retail value. This year, they had hundreds of boxes of the Hallmark Keepsake ornaments, all in the original boxes, including one of Joe Namath from a retired series.
Linda Estell has been a volunteer at the Switching Post for 18 years. She takes the lead in a creating some of the fully decorated, themed trees, entirely put together from donated items, for sale in the store. She doesn’t purchase a single new item to create a tree displayed in the store.
She starts by taking stock of everything they have, Estell said. And, then, the staff works around those items. It can require thinking outside the box.
One year the staff created a hot pink and purple Barbie tree with dolls attached. They’ve hung tiny tea cups from trees before, too. One of her previous trees had a snowman theme. This year, Estell found a Christmas train set that caught her eye. She used wire to attach the individual train sections, pieces of the tracks and even stuffed bears in plaid outfits from the branches. She added the old-fashioned light bulbs and some children’s books to complete the vintage, children’s theme tree. They didn’t have a tree skirt, so she used a plaid table cloth. She tries to inspire shoppers with the ideas she displays in the store.
All of the fully decorated trees in the store cost between $100 and $120.
A few years ago, a man who was newly divorced wandered into the store worried about what he would do about a tree when his children visited for the holidays. He found one of the decorated ones in the store and said, “Perfect, I have a tree now,” Estell recalls.
This year, someone donated a music-themed tree, which features a replica horn as tree topper.
Thrift stores continue to accept holiday donations and resell them until the actual holiday.
For socially conscious shoppers, there’s the added plus of supporting a charitable cause when buying at a place like Goodwill, in which the proceeds go to job training programs, or Miriam Switching Post, which donates all proceeds to the Miriam School, a private school for kids with learning disabilities in St. Louis.
In addition to the trees and ornaments, each store has plenty of other holiday décor, from wreaths to centerpieces to table linens.
“There’s an element of a treasure hunt to it,” Carr said. “We move a lot of merchandise every day. There’s something new every day.”
Well, technically, it isn’t “new.”
But even the best of the holiday spirit is as old as time.