“Hailey,” she said, gravely. “The thrift store is closing.”
Witnesses say the look on my face would have made the devil himself feel sorry for me.
* * * * *
I have a serious attachment to the Elk Island Thrift Store. It opened the in the spring of my Grade 11 year, in the midst of a particularly awkward phase of my existence. Being sixteen in a small town is difficult in that your pool of peers is very small and fairly homogeneous. Sometimes it seems like the only way to survive is to try to be like everybody else, and even if you’re not called out for being different, the tiniest deviation from the norm is painfully obvious. For a girl who had little interest in the jeans-and-t-shirts norm, but who was also fairly shy and uneasy with attention, getting dressed felt like a struggle between wearing what I liked and trying to blend in. Until the thrift store opened, my decisions were simple in that my fashion resources were scant. But then -
It started with a small collection of secretary blouses. These became a staple in my high-school wardrobe. I wore them often with jeans and a pair of fairly enormous boots. I began, also, to build a collection of oversized sweaters, usually with crazy patterns. One of my favourite items was a cream-coloured cardigan, crocheted (I think?) with an intricate pattern around the collar. A year after I bought it, I wore it to my art class and got paint smeared on the sleeve. It wouldn’t come out, but I wore the sweater anyway – and even now, I cannot bear to part with it. Sometimes I push up the sleeves and hope nobody notices, and other times I wear the sleeves down and hope nobody cares.
The following summer, the store decided to hire an employee (only one), and I got the job. I spent every day sorting through bags of donations, dressing mannequins and talking with the regulars. The owner, understanding my love of clothing, began to save me things she thought I’d like. At the end of the summer, she presented me with an enormous bag full of dresses – most of them handmade, and mostly from the 70’s. She had doubts about whether or not the clothes would sell, and could trust that I would appreciate them. She was one of the first in a large web of people in my life with whom I could share an understanding of the necessity of good clothing going to good homes.
When I profess my sadness at the thrift store’s closing – and I do it often, and without much reservation – my despair falls on bewildered ears. “It’s just a store,” people say. Or, “It sounds like a great place.” And it is a great place, but I will miss it for more than just that. The Elk Island Thrift store taught me how to be cool. Whether I was finding secondhand dresses or oversized sweaters or my first instant camera, so many of the things I’ve come to love – the things that make me feel like me – came first from this quiet little shop. The thrift store was the beginning of my appreciation for all things secondhand and vintage, but, more importantly, also of my understanding that being cool didn’t mean being like everybody else – wisdom that has made getting dressed in the morning far more fun.
- Hailey Siracky