Inside L.A.’s Most Competitive Thrift Store

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Glassell Park’s Goodwill outlet sells clothing by the pound; to find the real bargains you’ll have to wake up at the crack of dawn and sort through a Marie Kondo nightmare.

On a bright and uncharacteristically nipply Saturday morning in Los Angeles, an anxious ragtag group of shoppers lines up outside the Goodwill outlet in Glassell Park. These dedicated thrifters wake up at dawn and drive from places as far as San Dimas, Whittier and even Tijuana to hit up the thrift store that sells clothes by the pound, like ground beef.

When the doors finally open at 8 a.m. everyone bum-rushes the cashiers to sign up for a shopping cart before they’re all snatched up.

Master thrifter Jack Ruiz. Photo by Rose Surnow.

“I’ve almost been to blows with people,” says thrifter and self-professed “weekend warrior” Jack Ruiz. The forty-something-year-old sports a newsboy cap and coveralls. He’s been thrifting since he was a kid, and although the shoppers are competitive, he says that for the most part, they are respectful.

“This is people’s livelihoods, so they’re very serious about it. It’s like panning for gold,” he says.

Unlike most thrift shops, the Goodwill outlet is a concrete-floored warehouse with no heat, no insulation and no windows. It’s like a clothing store inside a prison. There are no racks, fitting rooms or sections divided by size and style. It’s a gigantic space full of enormous plastic bins bursting with wearable flotsam and jetsam. A pair of kids Osh Kosh B’Gosh overalls share a bin with a Brass Plum blouse and a stained GAP T-shirt. If Marie Kondo saw this mess she’d either have a panic attack or an orgasm. Possibly both.

“I’ve almost been to blows with people. This is people’s livelihoods, so they’re very serious about it. It’s like panning for gold,” he says.

Jack Ruiz, self-professed “weekend warrior”

Despite the store’s austere and chaotic ambiance, it has a certain charm. The employees are super friendly, and most of the shoppers seem to know each other, exchanging smiles, hugs and gossip.

“Over the years, you start developing a family feeling,” Ruiz says. “It’s not only a place to shop. It’s a social event.”

Claire Grayson, a 21-year-old non-binary musician shops for vintage clothes here less out of a burning passion for thrifting and more for an opportunity to make extra income.

“I am always looking for vintage denim or anything that’s 100 percent silk or 100 percent wool,” they say. Although it’s a side hustle at the moment, Grayson can make $200-$400 a month reselling clothes.

The store isn’t lined solely with vintage-seeking hipsters — although there are a handful. People of all ages, races and gender identities swing by and hunt for a Burberry coat or Ralph Lauren sweater.

One man wearing a face mask as protection from germs drives up from Tijuana every Saturday to shop for a full 12-hour day with his family. Then, at 8 p.m. they drive back home to Mexico, and eventually sell the clothes down there. They have been doing this cross-country grind for 8 years now.

“We’re all university graduates. My wife used to be an accountant and my sister was in merchandising, but the salaries in Mexico are so low that we make more money doing this,” he says to Los Angeleno without giving his name as he dashes from pile to pile.

Melinda McCall from Birmingham, Alabama and her 20-something-year-old son, Julius, were walking across the street when they decided to wander inside. “I just love this kind of stuff,” McCall says showing off her finds: an old DVD of the ’90s TV show “Martin” and Stan Smith Adidas shoes.

“For me, it’s all about sustainability. The global fashion industry is a massive polluter on all levels.”

Jennifer Mielk

Other Goodwill outlet treasure seekers are more purposeful.

Jennifer Mielke runs a consignment business called Conservationista. Photo by Rose Surnow.

Jennifer Mielke is a spry woman with spiky blond hair and funky earrings. She is raw-dogging it, digging through piles of clothes with her bare hands to get a better feel for the fabric and texture. Unafraid of germs, Mielke is on the hunt for very specific items: high-end clothes by modern designers. She runs a business called Conservationista.

“I’m a sustainable fashion coach,” she says. “I help people align their purchasing choices with their social values.”

Mielke used to work in the fashion business, but quickly became jaded by the amount of waste. Now, through Conservationista, she scours thrift stores and sells her finds to clients who love fashion and the environment.

“For me, it’s all about sustainability,” Mielke says.“The global fashion industry is a massive polluter on all levels.”

Melinda McCall and her son Julius discovered great finds. Photo by Rose Surnow.

As the morning wanes, it becomes clear that there is a definite divide among the shoppers: the clothes people and the book people. Danny J., an online used book reseller with dreadlocks and a warm smile, hangs around the book area. He waits in the small section in the back of the store rifling through a handful of book-only bins while chatting with friends and waiting for a new batch of bins to come out. For Danny sifting through books is both business and pleasure. He has five bookshelves at home just for his personal collection.

He says he pulls in roughly $8,000 a month selling books.

“One time, I was going through the bins and I found this book I’ve been looking for since college called ‘Margin of Safety’ by Seth Klarman. I got it for 75 cents and it’s a $1,500 book,” Danny says.

Did he sell the book?

“No, I kept it. I’ve been looking for that book for too long.”

This treasure-seeker knows when he’s struck gold.


Southern California Goodwill Clearance Center

3150 N. San Fernando Road, Los Angeles, CA 90065

Los Angeleno