field trip: Teen Challenge Thrift Store, Milwaukie, OR

Teen Challenge Thrift Store, Milwaukie, Oregon
If you've never heard of it, Teen Challenge (hereafter abbreviated as TC) down in Milwaukie on SE McLoughlin is one of the best thrift stores in Portland for furniture and household goods. I don't get down that way too often, but whenever I go, treasure awaits.

TC is especially good for vintage and antique furniture like dressers and mirrors, as well as handmade pottery.  My huge, so-bad-it's-good vintage herringbone-patterned pottery lamp I'm using as a floor lamp was found there. (And that's a lot of lamp for five dollars.) The other giant brass lamp in my main room (also on the floor) is from TC as well; Jeff found that one for me this winter while I was at work, texted me a picture, and I replied, "Yes, please!" (It pays to have your own personal shopper.) And my borrowed mid-century Lane dresser on loan from Jeff was also bought there, a real deal because he only had to refinish the top. He also once found a huge round vintage beveled mirror there for just $15, after waiting till it went on sale. (Sometimes that gamble works, and sometimes it doesn't.)

Milwaukie Teen Challenge sofas and books

sea sponges, Teen Challenge Thrift

While furniture and pottery are the go-to items, keep an eye out for other things, too. Saturday I picked up a couple of handmade vases, one of which is now housing my cat's wheatgrass to showcased effect on the main-room windowsill; a small bag of natural sea sponges; and a signed silver cuff bracelet for layering (because three bracelets are better than one).

pair of vintage brass Stiffel table lamps with original shades, Teen Challenge Thrift Store

But the big score of the day was a large pair of vintage brass Stiffel lamps, original shades intact, from a high-end U.S. company that once made brass lamps out of former casts for WWII military parts (bolts). Modern Stiffel lamps are still made in the U.S.—almost unheard of these days—though the company did have fiscal troubles in 2000 and relocated from Chicago to New Jersey. Vintage Stiffel lamps, compared to knockoffs, are heavy and solid and worth pretty much whatever a thrift store or secondhand dealer is asking, though the styles tend to be traditional. (I just happen to like well made eclectic decor: a mix of different styles and periods.) We were lucky these happened to be 30% off that day. But I already have a treasured black-shaded brass Stiffel lamp in my bedroom, found at William Temple, and so don't really need a third brass lamp—since too much of a good thing equals an uncreative thing. Plus, they really should be kept as a pair, and I'm not into matching sets. So Jeff's keeping the new (old) pair for himself, which will make for a striking bedroom set.

Stiffel logo on vintage lamp

dishes aisle, Milwaukie Teen Challenge

wooden spoons and plastic utensils, Teen Challenge Thrift Store

Ann Sacks tile, Teen Challenge Thrift Store, Milwaukie

We also saw three boxes of designer-label Ann Sacks tile for cheap, a fantastic find for anyone in the market for tile, which we weren't.

MLF license plates, Teen Challenge, Milwaukie, Oregon

The funniest find of the day was a pair of "MLF" license plates that Jeff snagged. The guy up front even gave him a discount unasked, saying the price seemed high (!). (How often does that ever happen?!)

Milwaukie Teen Challenge clothing aisles

Clothing, however, is not TC's strength—probably because whoever is donating all that cool vintage furniture and pottery is, by now, old and wearing embroidered poly-cotton blouses and comfort pants with elastic waistbands. But I did once find at TC a like-new army-green Ralph Lauren linen tunic, now a wardrobe staple, for just a few dollars.

For the record, Teen Challenge used to be up over on NE Sandy before moving down to Milwaukie, presumably for lower rent and more space. I'd gone in there a couple times. But at the old location, the goods overall seemed shoddier (like, clothes with holes) and the store dingier. So the move was a good decision, the new space lighter and brighter. They also have other TC Northwest stores across Oregon, Montana, and Washington.

Admittedly, TC is one of those thrift stores that pipes easily forgettable Christian music into the aisles, but it all seems for a good cause—helping former addicts get clean and turn their lives around, even if via Jesus. The salesmen (and yes, they're all men) are friendly and helpful: we were reminded of the 30%-off sale yesterday at least five times while shopping, as if we hadn't noticed all the big signs.

TC often holds store-wide sales from 30-50% off, depending on inventory levels. And those sales are the key to great deals, so it pays to be patient. Milwaukie isn't a high-hipster-traffic part of town, anyway, even if McLoughlin is a busy street. Saturdays are likely days for sales. Sundays, though—for good Christians and the rest of us heathens—are closed.

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