An artist’s guide to bargain living
Hamilton is full of quality used, consignment and antique stores
I have always been what you would call “bohemian,” a slightly offbeat artist with my own ideas of how to live well. My outfits mix vintage and current designer fashions; I am both liberal and conservative; I love raw oysters, but I hate fish. Regardless of what your own eccentricities may be, I guarantee that you can live a less expensive version of your life if you are bargain-oriented.
As a general rule, I do not buy new clothing if I can avoid it. I am addicted to dresses and boots, and lately I have been collecting blouses to go with my spring fashion statement, the high-waisted skinny jean. When I say new, I don’t mean new to me, I mean brand new. Regardless of who I am and what I like, why would I waste my money when there are recycled goods stores filled with a variety of treasures at a sliver of the price? With the steep housing and day-to-day costs associated with city living, every bit shaved off of lifestyle expenses makes a difference. It is not a matter of being cheap — it’s just good sense.
In Hamilton, as in urban cities in general, there is a subculture of vintage, antique, and preloved item consumers and the businesses that cater to them. There is a scale, of course, running from major thrift store bargains to upscale antique and consignment store splurges, which are still great deals relative to item value. Consignment stores, for those new to the concept, are businesses that resell people’s belongings for them, for a cut of the sale value. They are selective in what they will accept.
In the realm of fashion, a pair of mint condition Calvin Klein boots will cost you less than $15 at Value Village, regularly priced $200-$300, whereas a pair of Manolo Blahnik pumps from new designer consignment boutique Kiki’s Closets, on James Street South will fetch around $250 — about a fifth of their original tag. (If only Carrie Bradshaw knew about shops such as Kiki’s, she might not walk the streets of Manhattan so guilt-ridden all of the time.) The in-betweens are lower scale consignment stores, and vintage stores such as Vintage Soul Geek on King Street East in the International Village, where they carry hand-picked vintage clothing and accessories mostly priced in the range of $10-$100, depending on label, material, and rarity.
A rule in my guidebook: always work upwards. If you are looking for a specific thing (for me, that’s currently a china and glassware cabinet for my dining room) always try thrift stores before antique stores and markets. Perusing antique markets such as Remember When Antique Emporium on Ottawa Street is one of my ultimate pastimes, and the unexpected treasures are exciting, but practically speaking, a thrift store may be able to satisfy your needs at a much lower cost. Keep in mind, though, that these places put pretty much anything donated to them out on the floor, so gems are mixed in with ordinary rocks, so to speak. Antique stores carefully select high-quality items, so less digging is required. A thrift store might carry exactly the same top-drawer piece at a lower cost, but it could take you a while to find it.
Added benefits of thrift stores: they carry a wider range of styles that might better suit contemporary decor, and dirt-cheap furniture in poor repair can be “upcycled,” meaning refinished to be made more anesthetically appealing and valuable. A shabbylooking $10 dresser purchased at a thrift store can be made into a beautiful piece that is unique to you by sanding, repainting, and changing the drawer handles.
(Used goods pro tip: wash or dry-clean clothing, and give any upholstered furniture a good vacuuming, as these materials can spread clothes moths and bed bugs.)
For those in the market for the greatest item size to cost discrepancy, let’s address engagement rings. Antique stores tend to stock beautiful and often rare jewelry items at low relative cost, and in varying styles, but they afford to do this because they first acquire these treasures at an even lower cost, often from estate sales, where family assets are liquidated.
Imagine, aspiring fiancé(e)s, how much you could save from not only going the preloved route, but cutting out the middleman and attending estate sales personally. I am not saying don’t support your local familyowned businesses, but when it comes to a large investment such as an engagement ring, it might be worth a day trip or two to check out what is being sold off in your area.
Now, how about real estate? I can’t help you there. But, if you didn’t have to take a chunk out of your down-payment savings to propose to your sweetheart, wouldn’t that be something?
Hamilton’s Ottawa Street is known for it’s fabric district but also for other outlets that specialize in “previously adored” goods, writes Laura Furster.