I knew this was going to be different as soon as we walked in the door. A voice over the loudspeaker boomed, "YOU HAVE 30 SECONDS TO SHOP. BEGIN NOW." A very short time later, the voice said again "YOU HAVE 15 SECONDS TO SHOP," and then at last, it said, "SHOPPERS, TIME IS UP. PLEASE TAKE YOUR MERCHANDISE AND BACK AWAY FROM THE BIN."
My mom and sister went to dig through bins, but I felt paralyzed. The loudspeaker told me to step away from the bins. Yet there were people on our left still digging through bins. Which bins were okay to dig through? I leaned over to my brother and whispered, "I have no idea what I should be doing right now."
"Me neither," he said.
Finally my sister saw us still standing at the entrance and waved us over to the back end of the building. Then she explained the rules.
"See those people in that big line over there? They are waiting to dig through the new bins that have just been brought out. All of these other bins-" she pointed to mountains of clothing, books and household goods- "are available to dig through at all times. The price list for each type of stuff is over there on the wall," she pointed back to where we were, "and there is a scale by the bathroom where you can weigh your stuff before you buy it."
I dug through clothes, not really looking for anything in particular. After I had found some books, I looked for a cart that we could all share. Alas, all of the carts had been taken. Lastly I found a few housewares that I thought I could use. My eight-year-old brother had tagged along with me, and was holding some of my stuff. We dug through more of the bins... carefully. A lot of them were dirty, with broken things in the bottom. I noticed that some of the other shoppers were wearing latex gloves and surgical masks. Somehow my brother managed to stick his hand in a box of broken candies, and smear red slime all over himself. I took the stuff he was holding and found a laptop back to put it in, so he could go wash his hands.
The Greedy Book Lady
When I had finished shopping, my mom pointed out a couple using their phones to scan barcodes on different books. I've done a bit of book selling on Amazon before, so it piqued my interest. The mom and dad looked to be in their 40s or early 50s, well dressed, and had a son (probably age 13 or 14) working with them, bringing them more books to scan. I was quite impressed. I thought they might be a nice homeschool family, since it was a weekday and the boy was not in school. I walked over to the mom and asked her, in a friendly way, what app she was using to scan the books.
"I use several," she said, not looking me in the eye, continuing to scan.
"Which one is your favorite?" I asked.
"I don't usually give out that information," she said, again avoiding eye contact. I didn't know what to say after that. I was shocked. She thought I was out to steal her precious business secrets!
"We're from Michigan," I offered, "and I guess I just wondered... I just thought..." The lady was completely ignoring me at this point and had turned her back on me. I stopped stammering and turned around. My face burned red with embarrassment.
Staff had just pulled out a row of new bins, full of books. The Book Lady was in line, of course. An older lady in line behind her had asked to look in her bin, which Book Lady was conveniently blocking with an empty shopping cart. Book Lady motioned for the other shopper to go look in the old book bins, which she (Book Lady) had conveniently already picked through. I felt the older woman's pain. Having been reprimanded, she stood there helplessly and watched as Book Lady went through every book in the bin (rather slowly, I might add) to decide which ones she should put in her cart. When her cart was finally full, she still did not let the older woman look in "her" bin. Instead, Book Lady's son came and took away the full cart, replacing it with an empty one. I wondered where on earth he found an empty cart, as neither me nor the older woman had had any such luck.
I couldn't believe it. Not only was Book Lady hoarding the new books, but she was also hoarding the carts, taking her jolly old time while others in line waited patiently. Woe to the little old lady if the book she was looking for happened to be worth anything on Amazon. She would not find it here; she would have to go on Amazon and buy it for at least $4.00 from Book Lady.
Prices: Low or High?
As I've mentioned before, Goodwill Clearance Centers price things by weight. I ended up buying one large binder, two book stands, a lavender sachet, and three books. Here is what I ended up paying for each item:
Bookstands: $0.12 each
Lavender sachet: $0.06
Books: $0.42 and $0.56
After we were all piled back in the van, my sister said, "Whew! That was probably the worst Goodwill Outlet yet. I'm glad it was your first experience, Bethany, because all of the other ones will probably be better."
"I hope so!" I said.
Given the mediocre pricing on many items, frantic/desperate shoppers, "professional" thrifters like Book Lady, and dirty merchandise, I didn't get a great impression of Goodwill Clearance Centers in general. The atmosphere was high-pressure to me. From the intimidating loudspeaker messages, to the cart-hogging and bin hoarding, I felt like this place, for some reason, drew an unsavory crowd out of the woodwork. Not everyone there was greedy or desperate, but at a regular Goodwill, people are not breathing down your neck to snatch up a deal. The store does not have to make rules about how long you can stand at a bin, or how many shoes or purses you are allowed to buy (yes, those were actual rules at the Goodwill Outlet). There are enough carts for everyone. People know how to be respectful and kind.
So, that is my review of a Florida Goodwill Clearance Center/Outlet. Have you ever been to one? What was your experience like?