Refreshingly Unique
by Peter Zelchenko August 7, 2009

This week I once again hand the keyboard over to Louise Bowles Illich, the anticorporate great-grandniece of the famous Heloise. Think Heloise-meets-Eloise. Ms. Illich happens to be visiting Chicago----

Illich: Bullcrap. I'm expropriating this keyboard for my message, dude. Yer not doing it willingly.

Party Line: That's really not necessary, young lady. You----

Illich: Stifle it, pal.

Party Line: Don't break my keyboard!

Illich: Greetings, Earthlings. Do you remember the first time you were really, truly in love? The kind of love that makes you excited to jump out of bed, even on a Monday morning, despite gloomy weather? It happened to me right here in Chicago, just yesterday. Love at first sight. I'm stricken and waiting for Monday. "Stricken" is something like "smitten," only a lot more.

Like most anti-establishment Americans, I've gone through this country like a walking shadow, thinking there is nothing here for me. I spend more time these days in West Germany, Denmark and New Zealand than anywhere else, whenever I can score an air courier trip. But now I am seriously thinking of settling down in Chicago with my latest flame.

Party Line: Come now, whom do you know here? Surely you don't mean me! I'm not even flattered; you're scarcely out of your teens, and the 11 noserings are rather much, even to some of us liberals.

Illich: Shut up, old corporation dude. It's not you. It's not even a person.

Party Line: Not a...person? Surely not an animal!

Illich: No, ass, it's a place. You know I'm addicted to thrift stores. Now, I thought I was satisfied with the country's Salvation Army chain, with their piles and piles of junk in no particular order. I'm not into order.

Party Line: I had no idea there was any difference among thrift stores. It all looks like worthless soiled clothing to me.

Illich: That's 'cause yer blind. And I'm about to render you mute if you don't stop interrupting.

Party Line: Sorry.

Illich: Anyway, I've been trading up over the years whenever I've come to Chicago. First it was the Salvation Army stores, until they made me check my duffel bag. So I dumped them for The Ark on Milwaukee Avenue. Great sporting goods and kitchenware section, two floors, great old geezer record collections -- and it was just organized enough for me to find what I wanted without hyperventilating.

I also used to hit my friends at the Gaia Living Earth Movement store, just north of the Ark at 1318 N. Milwaukee Avenue. They have those familiar green boxes all over the city where they put clothes. They bale up tons of them and sell them really cheap to needy countries, and use the profits to fund sustainability projects and tuition for young people. At least that's what they claim; I believed that until I found out from my friend Kari that they cheat the very people who are helping them and then pocket the proceeds. [Ed: She means Kari Lydersen, who just released a new book on the recent Goose Island strike by Republic Window workers. Review by Chicago Reporter's Jeff Kelly Lowenstein here. See also this other article on Gaia.]

Illich: I saw that, geek-breath. Stop with the brackets or I'll destroy you.

Anyway, I went through a stint with the Village Discount Outlet, where they really respect the customers. Lots of locations around Chicago. They're a little nazi about checking bags, but I can understand, what with people stealing from them. The best part is they sort their clothes by color, and I like that.

Gapers Block: I thought you hated order.

Illich: It has its uses. It helps me find blue jeans, blouses, and even shoes. But one store puts even them to shame. I stopped searching for thrift-store love when I discovered Unique Thrift Stores. They have a great location just off of the 35th and Archer Orange Line, and several other locations in the area.

These guys not only sort things by color, they hang everything up in neat rows. Not only clothes, but bed sheets. Place mats. Socks. Even those old grandma doilies! Girls' shoes face out, boys' shoes face in, just like we want it. They have a fantastic little "grab bag" area where you can buy a plastic bag of goodies for yourself or your kids for anywhere from about $3 to $5. They pay incredible attention to detail. And their prices are decent, but they also have special tag days. Mondays all day, everything is 50% off. Can you believe it? Thursdays, things are 25% to 50% off until 1 p.m. The only thing that I don't like is their use of the old "99" pricing trick. Everything's "x.49" or "x.99." We know that's brainwashing. Anyway, I forgive them. I'm heading back there Monday for the 50% off sale. See you there, loser!

[Slams the door.]

Gapers Block: Well, well. Maybe Ivan Illich's alleged little love child is finally growing up.

Illich: I heard that!


Read BackGarage's new tour of Chicago thrift stores, which features Unique.

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