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Save Money on Pricey Gifts at Thrift Shops

Call it vintage; call it used. You may be surprised at the last-minute gifts available at local thrift and consignment stores.

Whether it’s a stuffed angel ornament from Luther’s Attic, a funny Christmas sweater from Aaardvark or a Chanel bag from Return Engagement, shopping at a thrift or consignment store—or the Salvation Army, for that matter—can round out your Christmas list.

True, there’s no gift receipt. But “Good Will Hunting,” as some call shopping at such places, can yield some wonderful surprises. You don't fight crowds, for starters, and a lot of times the merchandise is new.

At Always Fabulous Women’s Consignment Boutique in Riviera Village, for example, a black Marc Jacobs bag ($346.50) still has the original price tag of $1,000 attached—but the bag is clearly brand-spanking new.

Almost all merchandise at most consignment stores becomes less expensive with time. Everything is marked down according to dates shown on the tags, with roughly half the price returned to original owners.

You can wait to purchase something at your own peril, of course, but for high-end designer bags and apparel, it can be worth the risk.

Always Fabulous owner Heather Noelle Ogren, who has been in the consignment business for more than 13 years, said she has numerous new items, from Coach coin purses ($30) to a large selection of Italian cashmina scarves ($21-25).

Most customers at this time of year are interested in the slightly used designer clothes, such as the St. John knits, 7 for All Mankind jeans and Louis Vuitton belts, she said.

Although shoes are a tougher sell (you have to luck out on the size available), many at Always Fabulous showed scant wear, especially a gorgeous pair of dressy, black Manolo Blahnik pumps decorated with crystal stones. They are a size 8 1/2 to 9 and cost $119. (Similar Manolo shoes at Saks or Nordstrom go for $1,000.)

Along with popular labels like Kenneth Cole, Anne Taylor, Juicy Couture and Banana Republic, Ogren said, some of the best deals are found on Via El Prado: “We have $5 and $10 racks outside. People find things out there all day long.”

Luther’s Attic on Artesia Boulevard in North Redondo Beach is so smartly organized on the inside, you almost forget it’s a thrift store. Established in the fall of 2010 as a way to raise funds for Pacific Lutheran High School in Torrance, the store is staffed entirely by volunteers.

Manager Jane Schaefer of Carson, whose son Daniel is a senior at Pacific Lutheran, takes a great deal of pride in the displays, especially the numerous devoted to holiday items. Several different areas are devoted to Christmas, from dollar coffee mugs to new looking Christmas wreathes ($10) to various sizes and types of snow globes and ornaments.

But Schaefer credits the original manager, Mary Carlson, for launching the thrift store and creating the style of the store, including special discounts for seniors on Tuesdays and various colored tags that indicate sales during the week. “And it all goes to a good cause,” Schaefer said.

Prices are exceptionally low and quality exceptionally good, Shafer said, because everything is donated with the idea of raising money to buy computers, iPads and such for the private Christian school, as well as support students unable to afford the tuition. Gifts at Luther’s range from Mikasa crystal plates and vases to porcelain angels, fine jewelry, purses and clothes, including kids’ things.

Almost directly across Artesia, the Salvation Army holds treasures, although hunting them down may not be quite as easy. It can be worth the effort, however, especially when scouting for dishes and glassware in the boutique area. Two stunning casserole dishes with decorative covers run about $15 each, and a set of whimsical wine glasses are $10. Boxed Christmas cards to ornaments to books and DVDs cost next to nothing.

At the South Bay Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles Auxiliary Thrift Shop on Aviation Boulevard in North Redondo Beach, many children’s toys and baby clothes look ready to pop under the tree. Many things are new, including some baby clothes, said volunteer Lucy Van Leuven. The Manhattan Beach resident said that’s because babies often outgrow clothes received as shower or baby gifts before they are ever worn.

Stuffed toys, including Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore ($7 each), are in perfect condition. Baby items range from a pink fur jacket for $3 to pink-and-white pajamas for $1.50 to a Tinker Bell backpack for $5. Clothes are arranged according to age, and merchandise includes some adorable nursery art, Christmas dolls and décor.

Donations that don’t reflect the quality the thrift store insists upon are passed onto the Good Will, said Pat Harrison, who will take over as auxiliary president in April. The Hermosa Beach resident said the current store has been at the same location since 1970.

“In 2014, (the auxiliary) will celebrate our 100th year anniversary,” Harrison added. “And all our proceeds go to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.”

For many fortunate people, Christmas is a time to party, whether with family or friends. Possibly the most outrageous gift can be an elaborate Christmas sweater, and no store offers a more plentiful supply than Aaardvark on Artesia Boulevard. Cardigans, vests and pullovers come in all sizes, shapes and colors, not to mention with decorations such as Santas, elves, snowflakes, angels, you name it.

Buying one of these vintage sweaters may be for laughs for some, although at prices that range from $15 to $25 dollars, most can afford the joke. Aaardvark owner Jon McCormack said he can offer the sweaters for so little money because he starts collecting them in January and February.

“I’ve been in the vintage business since 1972, and I have vintage clothing wholesalers that I’ve been doing business with for over 40 years,” said McCormack, who bought the store in 1984. “Our business has always been selling at a reasonable price so people will come back.”

He considers Aaardvark “mainly a party outfitting store,” he said. “If you have a theme party of any kind, whether it’s a ‘70s party or pirate party, we’re known as the place where you find the unusual, the things you don’t find in most stores”—from hats to wigs to costumes to theatrical makeup.  

At Return Engagement Consignment Boutique on Avenue I, owner Alicia Nay said a lot of women “shop for themselves” at Christmas. Many are sent by their husbands to pick something out to put under the tree.

What do they want?

“Purses, purses and more purses,” said Nay, who lives in Rancho Palos Verdes.

Since designer bags aren’t worn like clothes, and are invariably expensive in stores, they tend to be the most popular gifts at this time of year, she said.

Whether Burberry, Gucci or Chanel, Nay has them in stock, usually for a third or less of the retail cost. A Salvatore Ferragamo satchel imprinted with a red lion for $295 sits in the window, for example, and a raft of Nancy Gonzales crocodile bags sell in the $600 range.

The Gonzales bags, which ordinarily run around $1,000, are new. “Nancy has her own crocodile farm in South America,” said Nay, who buys directly from the designer.

Nay also carries exotic jewelry, including gold plated necklaces designed with ruby and emerald pieces from India for around $400.

Another popular designer brand in terms of clothing is St. John, also pricey in stores. Nay has (or had, in case it’s gone by now) a stunning black and white cocktail jacket for $195, a price that will descend to way less by Christmas.

“I don’t want people to be scared away because things sound so expensive,” Nay said. Her list of popular, lower-priced name brands is lengthy and includes Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Dooney & Bourke, J. Crew, Juicy Couture, Kenneth Cole, Michael Kors, Tori Burch and even Lulu Lemon workout gear (from $19 to $50).

One customer blogged about a dress she bought for $13.95 off a discount rack at Return Engagement. “I love the 1920′s feel it has,” she wrote. “Score!”

Locations (plus a few extras) and phone numbers are listed below.

Return Engagement Consignment
312 Avenue I
Redondo Beach, CA 90277
310-375-0570 

Always Fabulous Women’s Consignment Boutique
1707 Via El Prado
Redondo Beach, CA 90277
310-540-4400 

Aaardvark
2621 Artesia Blvd.
Redondo Beach, CA 90278
310-370-6500 

Luther’s Attic
2409 Artesia Blvd
Redondo Beach, CA 90278
310-542-4828 

South Bay Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles Auxiliary Thrift Shop
1418 Aviation Blvd.
Redondo Beach, CA 90278
310-376-3991 

Salvation Army
4310 Pacific Coast Hwy
Torrance, CA 90505
310-378-0538 

Salvation Army
2406 Artesia Blvd.
Redondo Beach, CA 90278
310-376-1385 

Kids Double Time
715 Torrance Blvd.
Redondo Beach, CA 90277
310-542-4407 

Boutique Classique
550 Deep Valley Drive, Ste 100
Rolling Hills Estates, CA 90274
310-377-2078 

Good Will
317 Torrance Blvd.
Redondo Beach, CA 90277
310-379-4612   

Good Will
1145 W. Artesia Blvd.
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
310-802-6431 

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