Remember when going thrift shopping was like shooting fish in a barrel? Some frilly, funky or fabulous thing would just leap into your arms, and you couldn’t wait to debut it, bragging that it only cost $3.99? Well, those days didn’t go the way of permed hair; they just flew south to Long Beach.

Every third weekend of the month, the vintage shop La Bomba, in Long Beach, holds a sale that thrift-store junkies would be wise to mark on their calendars. Nothing costs more than $5 — and that includes leather, fur and evening gowns; small accessories like hats, belts and scarves are only 99 cents. The catch — or the fun, depending on how you feel about getting dirty — is that you gotta dig for it.

Come 11 a.m. this Saturday, May 20, Long Beach teens, in-the-know Angelenos and the odd dealer will head to the back of the shop and dive into a massive, multicolored mountain of clothing. All the goods in the pile come from garment bricks that La Bomba’s owner, Jorge Avalos, buys wholesale. But Avalos doesn’t pick through and pull out the prizes in advance; he just opens up a brick and dumps its contents on top of the pile. If you can tug it out, it’s yours, and that includes designer pieces (one lucky digger unearthed a Pucci dress), unworn sweaters from the ’50s, satin cocktail dresses, studded ’70s denim, fringed majorette outfits, Olympic tracksuits, hunting caps and enough disco glitz to keep you feverish well into Sunday.

“People will shop for a couple hours and walk out with trash bags full of clothes for 50 bucks,” says the store’s manager, Albert Gonzales, who adds that the La Bomba warehouse contains enough clothing for five years of sales. “It’s not something we do to be good capitalists. We just wanted to give everybody an opportunity to have something cool without a big price tag.”

L.A. stylist and pile queen Charon Nogues, a.k.a. Tricky Poodle (, used to live in Long Beach, and a typical day will see her strutting down Echo Park Avenue modeling at least one garment she’s plucked from the pile: Today it’s high-waisted Western dungarees, tomorrow it’s a cheerleader’s sweater, size extra small, and the next day she’s buttoning her husband into a Boy Scout uniform. (“It fits really well,” she notes lasciviously.) Nogues likens her approach to styling to the Iron Chef’s culinary m.o.: She’ll work with what she’s got. The pile similarly inspires the imagination, she says. “It’s a great resource for an opera or a play or Burning Man. You can create a symphony, there are so many elements in there!” Faced with the challenge of styling an entire fashion shoot with items mined from the pile, Tricky Poodle leapt to the occasion. She pulled out dozens of frocks and furs, jump suits and jackets, scarves and skirts, and rounded up a menagerie of playmates (including myself and fellow Style Councilors Linda and Caroline) for an afternoon of dress-up. Wearing a Naval Academy cap one moment, a unicorn mask the next, Nogues mixed and matched with reckless artistry to invent looks that were, like the stylist herself, kooky, sexy and totally original. We hope you enjoy the results. We sure did; none of us left empty-handed. Now go and see what the pile has in store for you.?

La Bomba, 2222 E. Fourth St., Long Beach, ?(562) 433-9112. Sat., May 20; Mon-Sat., ?noon-6 p.m.; Sun., noon-5 p.m.

Also in Long Beach:

While you’re there, take your new duds for alterations at NaNa-La, owned by onetime Japanese It-girl Eiko Wise, who also owns the vintage shop Imonni, two doors down. 2112 E. Fourth St.; (562) 856-7859. And when you’ve got the shopping all sewed up, refuel at the former sailor bar The Pike, where they serve to-die-for lobster tacos and Bloody Marys. 1836 E. Fourth St.; (562) 437-4453.

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