I fell in love with a good bargain as a kid on Saturday mornings, when my dad and I would climb onto our bikes and hit the yard sales, our treasures limited to what we could carry in a bag hanging from the handlebars.
I still love treasure hunting, but nowadays I do it at consignment shops and thrift stores around town. I know the good stuff when I see it — I'm a sherpa for my interior designer-mother at the twice-yearly High Point Furniture Market, and fashion is one of my beats at the newspaper.
So trust me when I say there are LOTS of high-quality goods to be had around town with deep discounts, and price tags suitable for an array of budgets — as long as you're not in a rush, and as long as you know where to look.
Think high-end designer furniture at-or-below IKEA and Wayfair prices, and clothing, shoes and accessories at way, way below retail.
Here are the stories behind five of my favorite finds. They're not all purchases at bargain-basement prices, but most are pieces with great craftsmanship or unique stories behind them. Got some of your own? Post in the comments, or share them with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Browsing the racks of Goodwill's "GW" boutique at the nonprofit's Opportunity Campus on Wilkinson Boulevard, I stopped dead in my tracks one morning when I came across a navy cashmere and wool-blend pullover sweater in perfect condition by The Row, a high-end line of clothing created by twins Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen. (Mine is the navy version of this one, selling for $890 at Neiman Marcus, with its signature ribbed stripe down the back.) My cost? $8.99.
PRO TIP: If you've never been, don't expect this place to be like any Goodwill you've ever been to. There are mannequins fashionably dressed, jewelry and accessories artfully displayed on tables, and you bring home your finds in boutique-quality bags with the "GW" logo.
2. Once my kids became old enough to stop jumping on furniture, we ditched the leather storage ottoman we'd been using as a family-room coffee table and found this on-trend gold and glass one at Consignment 1st, a cavernous store on Independence Boulevard in Matthews full of consignment items, furniture taken from model homes and High Point market samples. The coffee table provides the airy, bright look I want in my family room, and at $80, I don't get upset if someone sinks into the sofa and props up their feet on it. (Jumping, however, is prohibited.)
PRO TIP: I'm not big on furniture "sets," but if you are, you'll find them here - for the bedroom, living room, dining room and patio.
3. If you've ever heard of the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, you've probably heard about famous interior designer Dorothy Draper, who created the over-the-top interiors in every room. So when I walked into Classic Attic consignment shop in Park Road Shopping Center's "Back Lot" and spotted this lighted china cabinet with bombe base that Draper designed for Henredon in the 1960s, I bought it on the spot. (It didn't hurt that it was painted a lovely green echoed in my dining room rug.) I'd say it was a bargain at $550 — the same one is listed for many thousands more on vintage furniture resale sites like 1stdibs and Chairish.
PRO TIP: Look for signs posted with the deal of the day. I once scored an immaculate white tufted sofa from high-end line Mrs. Howard for $1,430 - about a third of retail - because it was "10 percent off everything white" day.
4. I'm not a believer in "placeholder" art — I like to keep empty walls blank until I find the piece that makes my heart soar, even if it takes years. So when browsing through Hamilton Stewart consignment shop on Park Road (it's packed tightly with everything from Scalamandre lamps to four-poster beds that look like they came out of Mount Vernon), I turned over a striking framed piece of woven artwork and gasped. It was signed by the late artist Jose Fumero, who was born in Cuba but lived much of his life in Charlotte, and whose obituary I'd written the year before. Bingo: A new piece of art to cherish on what had been an empty living room wall. $148 seemed a fair price for an original piece of artwork with a great story behind it.
PRO TIP: As in many consignment stores, pay attention to the dates on the price tags at Hamilton Stewart. Typically, prices drop each month an item sits un-purchased. (But if you love something, don't wait for the discount; good stuff moves fast at these places.)
5. This solid wood cabinet is the hardest-working piece of furniture in my house, as the "drop zone" for housing backpacks and after-school activity bags. Car keys and mail are tossed on top daily, and one of the drawers has been dubbed the "technology drawer," but thanks to its solid construction and high-quality wood and finish it still looks brand new, even though I suspect it's decades old. I found it at Sleepy Poet Antique Mall (now with two locations, in Charlotte and Gastonia) for $550 — not a giveaway price, but keep in mind that similarly designed pieces at mass retailers like Wayfair or Ballard go for over $1,000, and I'm guessing they don't boast the hand-crafted quality and indestructible finish of this one.
PRO TIP: Not sure how something will look in your house? You can buy most furniture pieces at Sleepy Poet "on approval," which means you can bring it back within a certain period and get your money back, although they do charge a re-stocking fee (usually 10 percent). Super helpful employees will help you load and unload your car.
Still looking for other places to score a deal? Here are a few of my other favorite spots around town. If you're on a hunt for something specific, most have up-to-date Instagram or Facebook accounts worth checking out:
- Consignments on Park: Located next to Blacklion across the street from Carolinas Medical Center-Pineville, this shop has a little bit of everything — furniture, home decor (they do a nice job keeping up with the seasons), kitchenware, and jewelry.
- Southend Exchange: Lots of designer furniture, Turkish rugs, lighting and local art here. They update their Instagram often so you can see what's new (and what's sold).
- The Depot at Gibson Mill Antiques Mall: Give yourself a day if you go, because this Concord antiques mecca seems to go on forever. (The sales floor is 88,000 square feet, where 600 dealers sell their wares.) The creaky floors add to the experience; for 100 years the facility was a bedding factory. There's lots of rustic farmhouse home decor, textiles, fine antique furniture and accessories. If you can't find your way out before lunchtime, there's a cafeteria on-site.