Small-Town Secondhand: A Tribute to the Elk Island Thrift Store

The last time my mom made the drive from our small prairie town to visit me at university, she brought some bad news.

“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.
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