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Thrift stores can yield awesome like-new stuff for reasonable prices, if you’re patient and willing to dig through racks of clothing.  Shopping at Buffalo Exchange on Telegraph for the first time this semester was a magical and eye-opening experience for me.  I walked in feeling completely crapulous at the tail end of a fairly awful week, and walked out two hours later with a twinkle in my eye and spring in my step, clutching a bag stuffed full of cheap new clothes.

The buy counter at Buffalo Exchange.

Michael's roommate calls this phenomenon "retail therapy".

Buffalo Exchange essentially buys, sells, and trades used clothing.  It, like several other thrift stores in Berkeley, is based on the premise of recycled fashion.  Keep in mind that we are not talking old-lady puffy-paint applique holiday themed sweatshirts here:

You know the kind I mean.

You know the kind I mean.

Rather, thanks to the discerning eye of the store’s buying team, shopping at Buffalo Exchange feels akin to raiding the closet of an older sister, cool aunt, or best friend.  Every item in the store is unique, and the merchandise changes constantly.  Low prices make it affordable to experiment with new pieces that I might otherwise not be daring enough to try.  Pieces such as:

Polka-Dot Skirt, Express, $8.50

Polka-dot skirt, Express, $8.50

Party dress, Roxy Rox, $12.00

Party dress, Ruby Rox, $12.00

Brown top, Express, 50% off at $3.25

Brown top, Express, 50% off at $3.25

Mock-tweed jacket, La Belle, $9.50

Mock-tweed jacket, La Belle, $9.50

Black fitted jacket, Arden B., $14.00

Black fitted jacket, Arden B., $14.00

Green hooded vest, rue21, $11.50

Green hooded vest, rue21, $11.50

I am particularly stoked with my discovery of the $12 strapless Ruby Rox dress.  I recently paired it with on-sale shiny black peeptoe heels from going-out-of-business Shoe Pavilion on Shattuck, $2 bold red hoop earrings from Wet Seal, and black nail polish from the dollar store.  I felt quite glamorous, with a punk-rock sort of edginess.

Katherine’s Tips: How to shop at Buffalo Exchange

When you first arrive, it’s tempting to want to buy twenty things in one go because they’re all so cheap.  Just be sure to follow these ground rules to avoid complete anarchy of the wallet:

  1. When you decide to buy something in the fitting room, first make a mental note of the maximum price you would pay, then look at the price tag.  Compare the two.  If your price is below Buffalo’s, buy the item.  If not, save your money for a better discovery.
  2. Remember that some items would be steals if they were new, but are only mediocre deals when you consider that they are used.  In these cases, save your money for actual new clothing from an actual new clothing store.
  3. Before your final purchase, inspect the clothing for damage and wear.  Nothing deflates consumer surplus more than finding out that half of the sleeve of your new jacket is falling off.

Like any great store in Berkeley, Buffalo Exchange does its part to help the environment.  In addition to the resources you inherently conserve by not demanding the production of new textiles, the store encourages customers to bring their own bags.  Buffalo Exchange also holds an annual Earth Day Dollar Sale, wherein certain items are a mere dollar, and the proceeds go to nature conservation.  As if you needed any more incentive to get shopping.

Buffalo Exchanges Tokens for Bags program donates five cents to one of several worthy charities when you bring in your own bag.

Buffalo Exchange's Tokens for Bags program donates five cents to one of several worthy charities when you bring in your own bag. (Flickr credit: jvree)

Jealous?  Don’t despair if you don’t live in Berkeley — there’s likely a Buffalo Exchange near you.  You’ll probably walk out with the same twinkle in your eye and spring in your step, cheerfully asking Buffalo Exchange, as I did, “Where have you been all my life?”

I went to Berkeley Bowl off Shattuck for the first time yesterday and left wondering where it had been all my life.  Berkeley Bowl is a local, non-chain store version of Whole Foods, that carries fresh local produce at eye-poppingly low prices.

How much would you pay at your local supermarket for this collection of vegetables?  (Hold on to your eyeballs.)

broccoli, roma tomatoes, celery, baby carrots, red potatoes, sprouts

Clockwise, from top: broccoli, roma tomatoes, celery, baby carrots, red potatoes, sprouts.

Here’s how much you can expect to pay at Berkeley Bowl:

  • Baby carrots: $0.89
  • Sprouts: $1.15
  • Roma tomatoes: $0.50
  • Red potatoes: $0.64
  • Bunched broccoli: $1.08
  • Celery: $0.59
  • Credit for bringing my own bag: -$0.05
  • Total: $4.80

I thought that the cashier had made a mistake at first and forgotten to swipe half of my produce through the register.  I wouldn’t have even been able to pay for my purchase if I used debit card because it was under the $5.00 minimum charge.  Wowza.

I’ve spoken to a few veteran shoppers and they agree that you’re better off buying non-produce at Trader Joe’s or another supermarket, but that you can’t beat Berkeley Bowl for its selection and prices of fruits and veggies.

Here’s the info, in case you want to make a visit to see for yourself:

Berkeley Bowl

2020 Oregon Street

Berkeley, CA 94703

www.berkeleybowl.com