There’s a substantial amount of polite confusion in L.A. about the difference between “thrift shops” and “vintage shops.” And no one — not even the people who own these fine establishments — knows where to draw a line. To my mind, going “thrifting” involves hunting around for deals on secondhand stuff and coming home with $4 jeans that I can distress myself. Thrift shops are where you treat yourself to new-to-you clothes because you don’t want to shell out for yet another $50 shirt you'll wear once when you could get 10 shirts for the same price, and where you find outfits for the annual ugly sweater Christmas parties. On the other hand, I think of “vintage” shops as carrying highly curated selections of clothing and accessories that I can’t afford, like an authentic Chanel bag or prescription sunglasses. Across L.A., thrift shops are disappearing while vintage boutiques are popping up all over the place. After a Saturday of exploring thrift and vintage stores alike, I learned that there are plenty of vintage shops that still allow you to be thrifty, and that the tried-and-true, better-than-the-dollar-store thrift shops still very much exist on L.A.'s Eastside. Here are the eight best places to find deals on people's old stuff.
1. Goody Store
Squashed near a bizarre-looking pink brick building, Goody Store is in Little Armenia, right near the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard and Western. From the outside, it is a truly forgettable-looking establishment, which is how I’ve managed to walk by it so many times without ever going in. However, finally entering Goody Store was a lot like entering the wardrobe that led to Narnia. I assumed the store was going to be a 10-foot-square room, but it just kept extending. The middle-aged couple running the shop paid no attention to me as I perused the clothes, furniture and array of kitchen supplies; they kept right on eating their Armenian pastries, drinking coffee and watching television. (Honestly, they were my ideal welcome committee.)
Hidden gem: Kitchen necessities. The wine glasses (and shot glasses) were a dollar apiece, and they had stacks of beautiful serving dishes for $2 each.
Vintage or thrift? Thrift.
5214 Santa Monica Blvd., East Hollywood. (323) 962-5691.
2. Son of a Vet
Though you have to trek past Montecito Heights, Son of a Vet is worth the long-ass haul. It fulfills every thrift niche you forgot existed, including an impressive display of VHS tapes, 99-cent CD-ROM computer games, 59-cent cassette tapes and DVDs. (Moment of silence for the fact that DVDs are rapidly becoming a thrift item.) It has piles and piles of books that are priced well under a dollar, inexpensive household goods and some great art in the back that could brighten any living room for six bucks.
Hidden gems: The inexpensive art in the back room.
Vintage or thrift? Thrift.
3310 N. Eastern Ave., El Sereno. (323) 227-1808.
3. Deseret Industries
Despite the fact that I was pretty much chased out of Deseret Industries (explanation forthcoming), it deserves a spot on this list simply because it’s essentially a more pristine, organized version of Goodwill, with better prices. The racks of color-coded shirts were around $3, as were the women’s shoes, including several brand-name heels in good condition. They have an adorable baby clothes section where they’re selling infant onesies for under $1.
After taking a couple of pictures, I was approached a stern-looking man who brought me back to a bleak office covered in religious wall art to ask me several questions. Evidently, “I’m doing a story on thrift stores on L.A.’s Eastside” translated into “I could be a spy from the outside,” so no one was excited that I was sitting politely in their overly religious administrative offices. A middle-aged woman made a call to the boss, who confirmed that I could not use photos of their store, because it would have to get cleared by the Salt Lake City headquarters. I was then handed a business card that had “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” written in the top right corner, and received two head tilts that were politely telling me it was time to go. So, my advice here is, don’t take pictures, and don’t talk to anyone. Just enjoy the Boyle Heights shop and then GTFO.
Hidden gems: Not sure because I got chased out before I could find out.
Vintage or thrift? Thrift.
2720 E. 11th St., Boyle Heights. (323) 268-7281.
4. The Left Bank
It’s easy to miss the Left Bank as you cross from Silver Lake into Atwater Village, but three U-turns later, I decided it was worth almost getting pulled over for. Entering the eclectic spot is like walking into a family’s living room, which makes sense, because it’s a family-owned business. The store’s walls are lined with chic-but-affordable outfits, and the thrift items actually fit; the selection ranged from small to plus sizes, so most body types could find something to wear without alterations.
Vintage or thrift? Both. Left Bank dabbles in everything; there are expensive vintage pieces that appeal to, well, the people who can afford vintage Gucci. And then there is a huge selection of secondhand clothes (that have been donated or traded for) that bargain hunters will appreciate.
Hidden gems: The $4.99 rack.
2479 Fletcher Drive, Atwater Village. (818) 839-1992.
5. Paper Moon
Paper Moon is right down the street from HomeState, which already makes it a winning destination for me. The store is very '50s-centric, so when people walk in, they’re generally looking for a specific piece for an event. Some of its finds are stunning. Paper Moon is the most expensive place on the list, but with a keen eye, you can absolutely spot some high-quality pieces at thrifty prices.
Hidden gems: The '50s skirts. While the shoes, men’s attire and vintage lingerie were on the steep end pricewise, there was a rack of '50s-style skirts in great condition for about $30 each. And there's a clearance rack right outside.
Vintage or thrift? The cashier defined it as “curated thrift.” So, vintage. However, the collection is highly specific, which makes it much easier to navigate than the vintage shops with clothes from all decades squashed onto racks and stacked on top of each other.
4516 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz; (323) 666-6009.
6. Lemon Frog
Like Paper Moon, Lemon Frog is also more of a vintage store, but it doesn’t have as specific a niche. The selection is from the '90s and before. After popping my head into a few higher-end vintage shops, I deemed Lemon Frog a worthwhile choice because the pretension levels are much more in control compared with the by-appointment-only vintage shops lining Sunset Boulevard. Everything on the first two racks and outside is less than $30, and the prices climb as you walk farther back into the shop. The aesthetic is incredibly cozy, with vintage hats and bags covering the lofted space in the back, and a private changing room in the corner with heavy curtains. The shoes and dresses are in never-been-worn condition, in my opinion.
Hidden gem: The $10 costume jewelry selection.
Vintage or thrift? Vintage.
1202 B N. Alvarado St., Echo Park. (213) 413-2143.
7. American Superior Vintage Clothing
There are a few American Superior shops in L.A., but this one is not only easily accessible, it also has a lot of the token thrift items that you’re better off buying secondhand. (It also has a selection of arguably useless items, unless you’ve been looking for a floor-length leather coat to finally complete that Matrix look, in which case your search is over — you can get one here for $50.) It had an impressive display of shorteralls, and denim of all kind, most of which was less than $20. While it has branches scattered throughout L.A., the Echo Park one is sprawling, and it’s a great Eastside location to start a day of thrifting, especially because you’re not far from Lemon Frog and the Left Bank.
Hidden gem: The shorteralls. Obviously.
Vintage or thrift? Despite the name, it’s much more thrift than vintage. While it isn’t donation-based, it gets weekly shipments of secondhand clothes from a vendor, which guarantees that you’ll often find pieces that weren’t there a couple weeks ago. It has a more chainlike feel — a slightly more local Goodwill.
1707 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park; (213) 413-1945.
8. Society of St. Vincent de Paul
St. Vincent de Paul is an enormous warehouse that's chockablock with thrift items. It’s overwhelming, and to come out with the right finds, you need a significant amount of time to dig. I’d recommend going if you have something specific in mind, otherwise you’ll get overwhelmed and wind up leaving with an armful of misshapen T-shirts you'll never wear. The smorgasbord of stuff is a combination of walk-in donations and donated samples and overstock items from manufacturers and retailers. So you can luck into completely new furniture at a great price. While they're clearly backed by a religious organization, I was not escorted out, so I automatically feel better about this visit. Going to St. Vincent is a true thrift experience in that the main clientele is parents picking up furniture on the cheap with their yawning children in tow.
Hidden gems: It has electronics for days at low prices. Also, unused mattresses.
Vintage or thrift? Thrift.
210 N. Ave. 21, Lincoln Heights. (323) 224-6280.