One of the things I liked about Brattleboro when we moved here was the abundance of second hand, vintage, antique, and bona fide junk shops. You can buy used records, used books, used DVDs, used furniture, used clothing, previously-owned jewelry, and every kind of vintage toy, decoration, and domestic item imaginable right downtown. Brattleboro has yard sales every weekend. Many non-profits host charity rummage sales – we go to the one at St. Michael's all the time. In short, this propensity to recycle consumer goods makes Brattleboro a bargain hunter's heaven. But on the other hand, what a drag it must be for retailers of new merchandise.
This dedication to the after market isn't just a sometimes thing. People flock to bargain spots, lining up at the door to get in to book and rummage sales, and filling the aisles (such as they are) at Experienced Goods. In fact, Experienced Goods (run by the Hospice) has become the de facto department store for a slice of Brattleboro residents, who come for clothes, furniture, kitchenware, books, gifts, and whatever else they may find.
There are reasons why people take advantage of the cheap thrill. The most obvious is lack of funds. If you're broke or merely squeezed, you may relish a bargain. If you can buy the very thing you covet without having to part with more than a few bucks, you're probably going to go for it. Books for a dollar; the side table to keep them on for three dollars more. You can't beat it with a stick.
Another reason to buy second hand is the cachet of vintage goods. Modern mass-produced products from Walmart have all the soul of a corporate office park. On the other hand, items that were owned and maybe even loved by actual people in the past have that lived-in feel that appeals, to me at least. They have history, beauty, and if you're lucky, better quality than the same things made today. The fact that they are also cheap is icing on the cake.
Finally, there's the earth-friendly aspect of second hand provisioning. People here seem to take seriously the third R in the recycling mantra – we re-use. Whether it's FreeCycle or free piles or the swap room at the dump, local residents take advantage of opportunities to obtain and dispose of all kinds of goods. Instead of filling the proverbial landfill with useful items, we pass those items on to others who need or want them.
Recently I went to the Green Street School tag sale where I bought an old kids picture dictionary to inspire me to work on my French vocabulary. When I got it home, I happened to glance at the flyleaf where I saw, to my surprise, the name of my mother's old friend from Baltimore, a French teacher of many years. Later that night, we worked out that the book had gone from my mother's friend to my mother, from my mother to Experienced Goods (telltale sticker on back cover), and from there to a third party who donated it to the Green Street School where I bought it for a dime. Thinking about the irony of this one little book's amazing circulatory powers, I was reminded of the three arrows in the recycling logo. Around and around our belongings go, from one to another and sometimes back again.
While it's true that we may not be buying as many new consumer goods as we could, I like to think that our reliance on both previously-owned and new products gives us a more balanced economy. It allows us to stretch our budgets a little further, improves our quality of life, and frees up cash for other things. Meanwhile, being the second hand emporium of the county isn't such a bad thing for Brattleboro – it brings in customers for all our stuff, old and new.