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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?”


At 8 pm PST Tuesday night, celebrations erupted all over California as Barack Obama was announced the next president of the United States, but there were surely few better places to be to experience the excitement than on the streets of Berkeley.


Hundreds of students gathered in the streets of Berkeley after Sen. Barack Obamas victory in the presidential election Tuesday night.

Hundreds of students gathered in the streets of Berkeley after Sen. Barack Obama's victory in the presidential election Tuesday night. (The Daily Californian)

I will save the actual writing of the eyewitness account for Vivek, who was actually on Telegraph that evening and has graciously agreed to guest blog about what I’m sure he will term “a hella sick evening, like, HELLA SICK”.

For now, you should definitely check out The Daily Californian’s excellent photo slideshow that perfectly captures the spirit of the evening, or read more in Tess Townsend’s article “Berkeley Celebrates Obama’s Victory“.

Berkeley’s commercial district is mainly comprised of small, independently-owned shops; there’s actually a city law that caps the number of chain stores that can do business here.  I’ve spent many afternoons wandering in and out of shops on Telegraph or Shattuck browsing their curious wares, always looking for that dusty hidden treasure nestled in a corner somewhere.  Some of the best shops in Berkeley to peruse are its bookstores, which buy and sell new and used books of all kinds.

Moes Books makes an appearance in The Graduate when Dustin Hoffmans character travels to Berkeley.

Moe's Books on Telegraph makes an appearance in The Graduate (1967) when Dustin Hoffman's character travels to Berkeley.

“Moe’s moved to Telegraph Avenue just in time for the Free Speech Movement.  During the Vietnam protests, Telegraph became the flashpoint for numerous run-ins with the police and national guard. When curfews were called by the authorities, Moe would refuse to close his doors, saying people were free to walk on the streets. An occasional tear gas canister would roll down the street and many protesters took refuge in the store.”

Moe’s Books

I still pass Moes on my way to class every morning.  Next year will be their 50th year of business.

I still pass Moe's on my way to class every morning. Next year will be their 50th year of business.

While Moe’s gets top marks for having four floors of books on virtually any subject you can think of, and is certainly a Telegraph Avenue landmark, Half Price Books on Shattuck is my favorite bookstore in Berkeley to buy books from.  Although HPB is a chain store (I was quite sad when I found out), it is the literature equivalent of Berkeley Bowl, with quality books at shockingly low prices.  HPB is housed in the historical Kress Building on the corner of Shattuck and Addison.

The Kress Building in 1933.

The Kress Building in 1933.

Today, the Kress Building houses Half Price Books, a jazz school, and a theare company.

Today, the Kress Building houses Half Price Books, a jazz school, and a theare company.

Today, the Kress Building houses Half Price Books, a jazz school, and a theatre company.

I always go into HPB with an open mind and come out with a great find or two.  A few buys I’m particularly proud of:


America, The Book. Hardcover. Retail: $24.98. HPB: $5.00.


Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Hardcover. Retail: $15.99. HPB: $7.00.

The Godfather. Paperback. Retail: $15.00. HPB: $4.00.


The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Paperback. Retail: $7.99. HPB: $3.50.

HPB’s stock is discounted because it’s usually overstock or very, very gently used books.  Most of the time, you can’t even tell they’ve been read, and adding an inexpensive book is a great way to personalize a gift.  I’m a bookworm, though, so most of the books I buy here are for me.  I go about once a month, and treat myself to any one book I want.  Getting a new book can make a bad day better, and a little literacy never hurt anyone.

Well, almost never.

Well, almost never, according to this Threadless shirt.

Half Price Books

2036 Shattuck Ave
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 526-6080

When I was touring college campuses, trying to decide which school to go to, no school was more hospitable than USC.  The hosts were gracious, the food was excellent, and the Marshall School of Business especially spared no expense on recruiting, giving every prospective business student a pretty classy book bag with their logo emblazoned on it.

No, this is not my new book bag.  Gross.

No, this is not my new book bag. Gross.

I ultimately decided not to become a Trojan, but I wasn’t about to chuck the bag.  It sort of kicked around in the back my closet for a year or two until a few weeks ago, when I transformed it via a fast and easy DIY project: patches.

Some of my friends and I were meandering along Telegraph browsing the street vendors’ wares, when we came upon Patch’s stand.  Patch, I am fairly certain, uses the patches as a front for secretly selling weed.  He keeps it under wraps, though, making only very subtle references to marijuana, such as a large Kermit the Frog hand puppet perched atop his stand with a blunt in its mouth.

Anyway, Ellie and I were only interested in the patches.  We purchased several of our favorite bands’; I took mine home and safety-pinned them over “USC Marshall School Of Business” to create what I would just like to say is now a very kickass book bag.

My new book bag kicking ass

My new book bag kicking ass

...and taking names.

...and taking names.