There’s nothing quite like the thrill of a thrift score. Uncovering a treasure at a bargain price not only saves you money, but is environmentally-conscious in that you are recycling already-manufactured goods. I rely on thrift stores to clothe my family and furnish my home, and also donate items regularly as well. Read on for a round-up of Iowa City area thrift and secondhand stores, and get the lowdown on where to look for what you need.
Tips for Thrifting
But first, get your headspace right. This isn’t going to be like going to the mall. It’s not going to smell like the mall; the mall smell is chemicals off-gassing from fabrics, whereas the thrift-store smell is…well, who knows, but it’s probably not carcinogenic. Bring some essential oils to dab under your nose if it bothers you.
Bring a crossbody bag, because you’re going to need the freedom of movement to comb through tight racks of jankety-junk to find the treasures buried within. In that bag, carry plenty of cash in small bills, because you don’t want to use a debit card if all you find is one shirt for $2.99. It’s good to go when you’re actually in need of a specific item, as it gives you something to focus your energy on, but allow yourself plenty of time and keep an open mind–who knows what else you might find?
For inclusion in this list, the store has to sell ONLY used items. I know there are a few great Iowa City stores that sell both new and used. I also didn’t include any antique stores. They might be super fun to browse on occasion, but I can’t exist on them.
Iowa City Area Thrift and Consignment Stores
Crowded Closet Thrift and Gift
1213 Gilbert Ct., Iowa City
The cheapest thrift in town, this is always my first stop. There’s a high volume of junk to wade through, but I also consistently find good-quality items for rock-bottom prices. There are frequently gently-used women’s clothing pieces from Ann Taylor Loft and Banana Republic, so I’ve picked up quite a few professional work-wear items for $2-8. The furniture selection can be quite good as well, and if I need a random kitchenware item (like I’m running low on spoons or my coffee mug just broke), I can almost always find super cheap replacement here.
I also bring most of my donations here, as they will accept almost anything (even clothing only good for rags–they send them to a textile recycler). My best score here: a 1970s wicker “swing chair” for $30.
445 Highway 6 East, Iowa City and 2551 Heartland Pl., Coralville
I find the Coralville location to be slightly better than the Iowa City location in terms of quality of items, though both are worth a look. Goodwill (in both locations) is generally better for clothing than household items, though sometimes they mark up items they feel are exceptionally valuable, and you’re just like, “Really?” The disorganized presentation can be a deterrent, but if you go frequently and allow plenty of time to wade through the junk, you can emerge victorious with a decent bargain.
Donating is easy, with a convenient drive-up at both locations and employees who emerge to help you unload. My best score here: a brand-new quality box set of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books for $5 (Iowa City), a Fossil purse for $3 (Coralville).
Salvation Army Family Store and Donation Center
1725 Boyrum St., Iowa City
So much stuff! The sheer quantity of items crammed in this place can be overwhelming, even for a dedicated and determined thrifting veteran. This place tends to be hit or miss, but for some reason, I’ve found this place to consistently be the best on shoes – whenever I’ve needed, say, a pair of kids black knee-high boots for a Halloween costume, or a pair of brown comfortable-but-not-matronly shoes for work, they’ve always had what I need here for under $5.
Donating is fairly painless, but slightly less enjoyable than at Crowded Closet or Goodwill, as there’s an awkward, cramped dropoff area often filled with a dumping ground of furniture. My best score here: a large curtain panel with an adorable print of succulents for $2.99.
111 Stevens Dr., Iowa City
This is a consignment store, so prices are higher than the straight-up thrifts, but still much lower than buying things new. Also, everything is very well organized so there is less time spent combing through piles of junk. I get staples like my kids’ winter coats and snow boots here every year, as they have a huge selection. They also have a wide variety of cloth diapers, which are very pricey new; good-quality toys; sports equipment; Halloween costumes; and maternity clothes. Twice a year they have an excellent sale, too, where all the clothing from the season that’s on its way out is marked down to $1 – there is still a ton of stuff to choose from and you can stock your kid up for the next year.
You can bring things in to consign without an appointment, but call first as they are frequently full up and not taking any more consignments that day. They are choosy about the quality and style of the items they take, which translates on the shopper’s end to shelves and racks filled with high-quality, current-style items. My best score here: a pair of electric blue ankle boots for $5 (for me, not my kids!)
1800 Stevens Dr., Iowa City
Again, a consignment store with higher prices than the thrifts (sometimes much higher), but better-organized, generally consistently higher-quality items. I tend to look here first if I need a piece of furniture, and it’s also my next stop for kitchen items if the thrift doesn’t have what I need. There is a whole room of furniture, plus, oddly, a good selection of purses, a decent array of linens including curtains and bedspreads, a lot of fun vintage planters, and the aforementioned huge kitchen selection.
I’ve never personally consigned anything here, but call first to make sure they’re accepting items that day and be very selective about what you bring in to present to them – even good-quality items can be rejected if they simply have too much of that item at a given time. My best score here: a set of colorful Tupperware bowls with lids for $10.
1027 Highway 6, Iowa City and 2818 Commerce Dr., Coralville
Consignment stores in cavernous spaces, these places again have higher prices than the thrifts but are more discerning about what appears on the shelves. Sometimes, for me, the prices are just too high for what an item is, but they do stock a lot of nice clothing for all ages. They also sell new mattresses at a deep discount, which could be a coup if you’re in the market for that.
Anytime they’re open, you can bring in 1 tote bin a day of items to consign – more than that and you need to make an appointment. With this policy, Stuff Etc. can be a relatively hassle-free way to declutter and still make some money off your items. My best score here: a vintage nightstand for $50.
1801 2nd St. Ste. 150, Coralville
I have to confess I haven’t been here yet, mainly because it’s very far from my house, but I have a friend who pops in frequently after donating blood at the nearby blood bank, and I have admired some clothing items she’s then revealed she bought here. The Internet tells me their shtick is to “buy and sell gently used name brand clothes, shoes, and accessories.” It seems to be geared to teens and young adults. Brands they list are American Eagle, Pink, and Forever 21, which is probably why my tween has been agitating to go here.
They pay cash on the spot with no appointment needed, and buy any season at any time, so that seems convenient.
219 N. Gilbert St., Iowa City
A cozy used bookstore in a historic home, this is where my children pick out gifts for birthday parties. They have a great selection of kids books in almost-new condition. They almost always go home with something for themselves, too –at such reasonable prices, it’s easy to say yes to a new book. I’m also always delighted by handling vintage, library-bound copies of children’s classics, too. My best score here: the first Harry Potter book, to read aloud to my daughter, for $7.
Check out some great tips for successful thrifting. Also, for style inspo or just general salivating with envy, there are tons of fun style blogs focused on thrifted finds, like Looking Fly on a Dime and Refashionista. Here’s a roundup of the best to get you started. If you like to chat with other local moms about saving money and finding the best deals, check out Iowa City Moms Blog’s Bargain Hunting Mamas group on Facebook, too.
Happy thrifting! What are some of your best thrift scores?