Not long after Uhmar Alston and I met at The Baltimore Banner, we bonded over our love of thrift store shopping.

We can’t remember exactly how our conversations started, but when we sat down to collaborate on this story, we remembered unashamedly bragging to each other about how little we paid for a Brooks Brothers button-down shirt, in Uhmar’s case, or a pair of Ann Taylor pants, in mine.

Over the years, we’ve furnished our homes and decorated our walls on the cheap, both out of need and for fun. Turns out, we shop alike, too, surveying the whole store like treasure hunters, flipping through the aisles of clothes, scanning the home goods and browsing used books.

Uhmar, an executive assistant, tends to gravitate toward clocks, lamps and vinyl; these days, I’m usually upgrading my reporter wardrobe.

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The two of us have thrifted for decades. We’re going to share some of the lessons we’ve learned along the way to set you up for thrifting success, and tell you a little about ourselves, too.

Although we come from very different backgrounds, our parents taught us how to stretch a dollar.

Uhmar grew up in a single-parent family with scarce financial resources in Baltimore City. He recalled taking the bus with his mother, and sometimes one of his four siblings, from their home on West Lafayette Avenue to shop for school clothes at a nearby thrift store.

It was embarrassing for a 9-year-old Uhmar worried about what his peers would think. “I was hesitant to get off the bus because I thought that my classmates would see me going into the thrift store,” he said.

That all changed after his seventh grade reading teacher, Mr. Cleveland, complimented Uhmar’s thrift-store outfit in front of the class, filling him with pride. He laughs now, remembering the orange sweater covered in lint balls.

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“I didn’t like the fact that he put me on blast like that. But it was kind of that moment for me that I actually began to appreciate thrift stores,” Uhmar recalled.

Baltimore Banner Executive Assistant Uhmar Alston stands with some treasures he later purchased at the Goodwill Super Store at 11411 Reisterstown Rd in Owings Mills on August 26, 2022.
Baltimore Banner Executive Assistant Uhmar Alston stands with some treasures he later purchased at the Goodwill Super Store at 11411 Reisterstown Rd in Owings Mills on August 26, 2022. (Brenda Wintrode)

Growing up the oldest of two girls in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, a suburb about an hour west of Boston, my childhood circumstances were different from Uhmar’s. Looking back, I’m not sure if our family finances were scant, or if my parents were just frugal. But they obsessively saved before they spent and fixed broken things — or went without — before they dreamed of buying something new.

And even then, paying full price was taboo.

Perhaps my father instilled the thrill of the bargain hunt in me. He bought most of our household goods, from toothpaste to toilet paper, at a local discount store called Spag’s, the “Home of Spag-tacular Values,” a warehouse store of sorts ahead of its time.

He’d walk in the house after a Saturday morning shopping spree boasting, “Look at what I got for 99 cents at Spag’s,” as if he had just won the lottery.

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I get it now, Dad. I get it.

For Uhmar and I, our parents’ rigorous discipline taught us both lifelong lessons, including that you don’t have to pay full price when perfectly fine clothing, accessories, home goods and furniture wait just down the street in your local thrift store.

Here’s a list of some of our best tips to consider before you head out.

Make a list before you go

Need a new muffin tin, rain boots, camping gear or a tennis racket? Keep a running list of items that you’ll likely find in a thrift store. You might find yourself spontaneously stopping by a bargain store, and it’s hard to remember what you need. A list will focus the hunt and fend off impulse purchases.

Don’t know what’s there? Make a dry run first just to see what is.

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Ask yourself: Where will you store that guitar?

Before you walk out of the thrift shop with a new musical instrument, footstool or an antique ice cream maker, think about where you’re going to put it. Do you even know how to play the guitar?

Take it from two people who have at times overloaded their spare rooms with “someday” purchases. Someday doesn’t always come, but the garbage truck does come on Tuesday. So before you pick something up that’s going to go on the curb, think about your space. Don’t clutter your home with items just because they’re cheap. Ask yourself, does it have an immediate purpose in my home?

Treasure in, treasure out

Uhmar and I both have a rule to prevent overcrowding our homes. If you’re buying a new version of something you already have, such as a raincoat or your eighth brown belt, consider donating the older version, as long as it’s still in good shape. Donations are what makes the thrifting world go around, after all.

Make sure you love it

Here’s our number one piece of advice: Don’t buy it unless you love it. If you love it, throw the other rules out the window — just get it. You’ll find a place for it. How will you know if it’s love? If it makes you happy, if you can’t put it down, if you don’t want anyone else in the store to find it and for sure if it’s going to impress your friends.

One recent Friday in August, Uhmar kindly offered to show me a few of his favorite spots around the Baltimore area, and we’re sharing them here with you. And, yes, we both lived the dream that day and got paid to go to secondhand stores. Our list includes some of Uhmar’s — and now my — area favorites, but does not include all of the great thrift and consignment shops out there. Drop us a line and tell us some of yours.

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Happy hunting!

Goodwill — 11411 Reisterstown Road, Owings Mills

Goodwill — 6999 Reisterstown Road, Baltimore

Goodwill — 715 South Broadway, Baltimore

The Duckpin Consignment Adventure — 2350 York Road, Lutherville-Timonium

Savers — 1925 East Joppa Road, Parkville

Goodwill — 200 West Padonia Road, Lutherville-Timonium

Goodwill — 1012 York Road, Towson

Find directions to these and other Goodwill stores here.

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