An artist’s guide to bar­gain liv­ing

Hamil­ton is full of qual­ity used, con­sign­ment and an­tique stores

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - Laura Furster is a fine artist, lit­er­ary writer and jour­nal­ist liv­ing in down­town Hamil­ton. She can be found on Face­book/Twit­ter/In­sta­gram, and at Con­tact: laura.furster@out­

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.


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