field trip: Red White & Blue Thrift Store

Red White & Blue Thrift Store sign

The last couple Saturdays I've popped into Red White & Blue (RWB), a thrift store here in Gladstone benefiting Vietnam veterans. No offense to Vietnam veterans—who've mostly been shafted all these years with liberal doses of Agent Orange, PTSD, and inadequate federal funding for veteran's programs—but this is a store Jeff and I have mostly avoided in years of secondhand thrifting here in Portland because the store turned us both off on first impression long ago: too many people and too many carts in too-narrow aisles. Those negatives haven't changed, but there are enough positives that it's worth braving the crowds now that we live in the neighborhood.

Saturdays are packed! I can't yet speak to weekdays but on Saturdays, RWB puts everything at 50% off except for one color tag, the most recent items. That means everyone and their dog are taking advantage of the better prices on Saturdays. Good deals can be had but on only about a quarter to a third of what's taken up to the cash register (at least for me). And note that there's a cash-only policy, though they do have an ATM. I'd rather take cash and avoid ATM fees. Seniors do get half-off on Wednesdays, Seniors Appreciation Day, so take a baby boomer shopping on Wednesday and it'll probably be like Saturday but with more gray hair.

The bulk of the store, like many thrift stores, is clothing, all lined up in narrow aisles. The clothing is annoyingly arranged by type and then color, not by size, so good luck digging through the racks to find something that fits. There are also no dressing rooms (!), only a few mirrors on the end caps, an odd choice for a shop that mostly stocks clothes. These methods save time on the shop's end but not on the customer's. They obviously don't care.

For the record, prices are on the high end for secondhand clothing compared even to Goodwill, particularly when the women's clothing in general seems dated and downright elderly, though the men's clothing fares better (probably because men's styles are relatively static). I've seen a few men's J.Crew and Brooks Brothers dress shirts and Pendleton wool shirts. Yesterday I picked up a Pendleton 100% wool plaid shirt half-off for my youngest brother that was full price last week. I also unfortunately bought a men's Levi's snap shirt at full price ($13!) for myself that looked like it would fit but didn't when I got home. (Note to self: Don't buy men's shirts.) So I'll have to try reselling it on eBay.

Another pet peeve about the clothing is that they staple the tags directly onto the fabric, which in some cases will create noticeable holes, particularly problematic for thin knits. Tsk-tsk, RWB. Like GW, they have too much cheap merchandise forever appearing at their doorstep to worry about ruining it. But buyer beware, there are no returns here. Check for likely tag damage before buying clothing.

Red White & Blue front windows

Tchotchkes, aka bric-a-brac, line shelves along the front windows. Last weekend I scored a Vermont-made Bennington Pottery trigger mug in Satin White (retail $18) for a mere dollar. Kitchen wares and household goods like lamps, furniture, and linens hug the left side and left back wall. The furniture section is small, but I did snag a half-off small drop-in enameled cast-iron sink for my tiny house bathroom last week and a wall-mounted toilet roll holder at half-off this week, along with a large throw pillow and a cotton-metallic blanket at full price, both a little cheaper than what could be had at Goodwill at full price.

Red White & Blue interior

It's not clear from my photos because I was too busy with in-store traffic to take close-ups, but I spent half of my shopping time yesterday simply dodging other people's carts and moving my own. A clerk, said, "Excuse me," at one point as she was moving around me to hang an item. I said, "Sorry! I feel like I'm in everybody's way." She replied, "So do I, every day." Poor clerk.

The RWB aisles are much too narrow. Usually I skip pushing a cart in thrift stores for this reason, only carrying a hand basket, but I'd found a big pillow and blanket that needed a cart this time, and so I was destined to be one of those aisle-blocking shoppers. We all negotiated around each other to a stressful degree.

And then when it came time for the final selection process, which I normally do by finding a quiet place in the furniture section to lay things out and take a final look, there was no quiet place in the furniture section or anywhere else, so I had to pick a comparatively empty aisle. But then as soon as I would pull something out of my cart to think, another customer would suddenly appear in the aisle and I'd be in the way—an awkward, unwanted dance. I'd move to a fairly empty aisle, pull my cart to the side, lay out a shirt or rug to examine it for stains or holes, and poof!, the aisle would magically be full of people with carts bulldozing down the aisle, and then I'd be apologizing for taking up space. Awful. Stressful. RWB really should do something about this, even if it means putting less merchandise on the floor at a time. Since this is their only store in Oregon, maybe it's time to expand.

Bottom line: the lack of space to think and breathe in the store is so extreme I would not bother coming here, except that I now live within walking distance. I walked to RWB yesterday, a 15-minute walk, easy except for breathing in all the exhaust fumes and hearing the constant rush of cars along McLoughlin.

Red White & Blue showcase clothing: men's Pendleton jacket, etc.

Red White & Blue showcase: Bloomingdale's sheepskin jacket

Red White & Blue Thrift Store Donation Center

In sum, the crowded, clothes-heavy Red White & Blue Thrift in Gladstone on McLoughlin/99E is open Monday through Saturday from 9-6, cash only, no returns, with some good deals and the occasional quirky find to help out veterans—if one is willing to brave a panic attack.

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