“I got a pair of Guess jeans in sixth grade for like $10,” she said. “I thought, ‘I can get these jeans that girls in school are fighting over at the thrift shop?’ I’ve been hooked ever since.”McMeeken, 37, now makes a living off of thrift. She owns Vintage Junkies, a nearly 2-year-old REO Town shop that specializes in vintage clothing and home décor.
“I’ve been thrifting since I was really young,” she said. “My mom was a single mom, so we got a lot of stuff from thrift shops.”
But for McMeeken, thrifting goes beyond saving money.
“It’s mainly a cost thing,” she said. “But it’s also a consumerism thing. Why would I buy something new if I can find the same thing gently used at a thrift shop? It’s almost a hippy thing.”
In addition to clothing, McMeeken finds most of her home furniture and décor at thrift shops. Her favorite thrift store purchase is a giant owl lamp for her home, which she paid just $5 for.
McMeeken also “upcycles” items in her shop, taking beat-up or discarded items and repainting or otherwise rehabbing them. Her shop regularly features repainted picture frames, decorative flowers made from neckties, hand-painted bags and other revamped items.
McMeeken’s love of upcycling started with a table she found at a thrift store while she was still in high school.
“I got a cool end table, the two-tiered kind from the ‘50s,” she recalled. “I painted it black and then Mod Podge-d images of celebrities all over it.” The biggest image was a photo of Dolly Parton in a bathtub.
Upcycling is another way McMeeken embraces a less-waste lifestyle.
“It’s the repurposing of something — saving it from the trash,” she said. “I don’t like things to get thrown away.”
Andrea Kerbuski appreciates the value of thrifting but also looks to thrift stores to find one-of-a-kind items you can’t get at retail clothing stores.
“I love the idea of finding something unique,” she said. “I’ve found some good fur coats. I like to feature these things on my blog.”
Kurbuski, 30, is an account executive at Martin Waymire by day, but she also runs a fashion blog, blondebedhead.com, which features a mix of clothing from boutique shops, local retail outlets and thrift store finds. Like McMeeken, she also scours the local thrift stores to furnish her home.
“It’s so affordable,” she said. “I’m about to buy a house, so any furniture I can get from the thrift store to fill it is a good thing.”
Her favorite finds are decorative glass and metal cups she has repurposed as planters and a pair of mid-century chairs she picked up for just $90 at April’s Antiques.
“They’re beautiful and great quality,” she said. “You would pay much more for chairs like this (at a big box store), and they would be lower quality.”
For serious thrifters, Lansing is a treasure trove of vintage value. Kerbuski has friends from Chicago, where the vintage clothing scene is much more competitive, who dig through Lansing thrift shops in search of items to resell.
“They leave with garbage bags full of stuff,” she said, adding that prices for vintage clothing in Chicago are higher “because people know what things are worth.”
One friend in particular has an eye for in-demand items.
“She’ll pull out a dress that doesn’t look special, and she knows she can clean it up and resell it for $200,” Kerbuski said.
Kerbuski hits several spots in town but also has a favorite spot for local thrifting.
“I always hit the Mega Mall,” she said.
The antiques-meets-thrift-meets-craft outlet, located in a former grocery store on Lansing’s north side, features over 200 vendors in its 40,000-squarefoot space. The Mega Mall’s booths range from tastefully arranged retro furniture booths to spaces jammed to the gills with vintage tableware and cooking items.
“I dedicate half a day to combing through the booths,” Kerbuski said. “I try to have a list of things I’m looking for so I can be prepared and not get overwhelmed.”
Sarah Williams, 38, is a health consultant with the Michigan Department of Education and an avid thrift shopper.
“I probably go three times a month,” she said.
Williams also has a favorite thrifting spot.
“I don’t think Volunteers of America can be beat,” she said. “It’s huge. You have to have a plan or you’ll be there all day.”
Volunteers of America operates two Lansing thrift shops, one on South Cedar Street and one on the west side near the corner of Waverly Road and Saginaw Highway. Both stores are large, with a vast collection of clothing, furniture and home goods.
“Big stores can get overwhelming,” Williams said. “You have to commit to the process. You have to give yourself an hour and a goal, like ‘I’m going to find a dress.’”
Williams is always on the lookout for items that family members or friends would enjoy.
“I have bins of things I’ve thrifted so that when Christmas time or birthdays come along, I already have gifts,” she said.
Like McMeeken, Williams started thrifting early with her family.
“I don’t remember not thrifting,” she said. “Growing up, we weren’t the most well-to-do family.”
That early thrifting instilled a sense of value she still carries today.
“I have a great wardrobe, and I hardly paid anything for it,” Williams said. “I have friends who go to the mall and spend $400. I can’t even understand that.”
And while it started as a money-saving activity, Williams grew to love the search for thrift store finds.
“I love the hunt,” she said. “There’s like 80 pieces that are crappy, but then you find the one perfect thing.”