obody knew exactly what it was.
It was wooden and shaped like a
box. It had a lot of blades that re-
sembled some kind of hacksaw. And
it appeared to be an antique.
For days, workers at the ORT Clothes-
pORT asked visitors if they had any ideas.
Finally, a senior citizen recognized the ob-
It was a bread cutter, he said, popular
at the turn of the century.
The ClothespORT is one of three local
thrift shops operated by Jewish women's
organizations. The National Council of
Jewish Women has two, in Berkley and
Royal Oak, while ORT has its shop in Fer-
ndale. Everything for sale has been do-
nated, with proceeds going to the
organizations and causes they support.
The National Council of Jewish Women
was founded in 1893 and serves as an ad-
vocate for women, children and the aged
as well as Jewish life and Israel. It also
promotes constitutional rights and edu-
ORT, established in 1880, is the world's
largest voluntary network of vocational
education and technological institutions.
It has 800 schools in Israel, the United
States, Europe and Latin America. Among
its projects are apprenticeship programs,
technical institutes, junior colleges and
The ORT and NCJW gift shops are a
bigger business than most expect (both
bring in thousands every month). It's a
business based on trust, too (with no way
to inventory everything coming in, it's vi-
tal to have honest employees and volun-
teers). And it's an unusual business. After
all, where else could a shopper find a
portable toilet seat for the disabled, an el-
egant designer suit, knitting needles, child-
care magazines from five years ago and
men's black roller skates all in the same
But that, thrift shop workers say, is ex-
actly what makes it fun.
is early Tuesday morning at the NCJW
thrift shop in Berkley and it's already
busy. Most of the customers linger
around the clothing, though one man
is taking a look at a couch. A boy buys a
child's camera for $1.50. A woman pur-
chases Donna Karan hose, never opened,
Those dollars, those quarters, those
dimes. Who would think they would add
up to so much?
"We bring in between $5,000 and $7,000
a week," says store manager Francine
Smiley. She's sorting through women's
clothing today. A like-new vest, covered
with multicolored whimsical designs,
catches her eye.
There aren't many customers for the
books, but there's quite a collection. Among
the treasures on the shelves:
• The fascinating Six-Legged Neighbors,
a child's science textbook that includes a
full-page color picture of a fly.
• Dream. Boy, a teen romance certain
to put many a young girl's heart all aflut-
ter. ("Gwen reached for Michael's hand
and now tears were slowly trickling down
her cheeks. 'Michael, I care about you. I
do, but I just have to...have to see Jack too.
Try to understand. Please."')
• A Universal Jewish Encyclopedia
Reading Guide, copyright 1944.
• The World of Music (circa 1940s), with
such memorable numbers as that Polish
great "Little Lady Rose" and the classic
"Charlie," described as a "traditional Amer-
ican tune" and featuring such brilliant
lyrics as "Charlie's neat from head to feet;
Charlie's quick and handy; Charlie is a
nice young man; He feeds his friends on
• A 1942 edition of Songs of Zion.
There also are copies of Smithsonian
magazine, romance novels and old issues
of Bon Appetit.
It's a short trip from the books to the
furniture and appliances, which include
couches and chairs, lamps, side tables (one occupy more than half the Berkley shop.
topped with a basket with tres chic pink-
Rack after rack displays blouses, skirts,
and-white plastic flowers) and a white ma- dresses, pants, suits, jackets and children's
chine that turns a bathtub into a whirlpool. clothing. Women's shirts average between
And don't miss that pet carrier — just about $5 and $15, with a black Calvin
in case you're planning on a trip to Flori- Klein going for $10 and a beige Ralph Lau-
da. You wouldn't want to leave Fifi behind. ren (that's Lipshitz to mom and dad) at
This week Council Thrift has three tele- $12.
visions, used tennis racquets and some
Party girls will find glitter-laden gowns
strange contraption called an "energy mon- selling for $30 to $40, while shoppers ready
itor" (the kind of thing only avid "This Old to spend top dollar, resale-style, can pur-
House" fans could really appreciate). Near chase a black Armani suit for $75, or spend
the front are drinking glasses and a lone the same amount on an Ungaro yellow-or-
soap dish, typewriters, bedspreads and a ange-pink jacket and skirt, which retails
portable toilet seat for the physically dis- new for about $800.
abled. Off to the left are baby bottles,
Mrs. Smiley believes both the Armani
sewing patterns and a handful of 1940s and Ungaro will be gone within a week.
booklets on knitting creations for baby.
Coats, many made of wool, are all in ex-
The center of this little resale universe, cellent shape. They sell for between $25
however, is undoubtedly the clothes, which and $40.
"We had a brand-new Fitch coat, never
even worn, in here," Mrs. Smiley says.
Valued at $15,000, it went for $1,200.
Prices are based on the condition, esti-
mated original cost-and brand name of the
And if you want to walk a mile in some-
body else's moccasins, so to speak, you can
find shoes both on a rack and in a bin.
Some are a little quirky; it's hard to
know who would really want those 3"-
heeled, pointy-toed, electric blue wonders
that simply scream, "Victim of a brides-
maid's gown of a most unusual color." But
there also are gently worn pairs bearing
such labels as Evan Picone, Nine West,
Calvin Klein and Esprit. An almost-new
pair of Nikes is a steal at $7.50.
It's hard to predict who will buy what,
and there's no such thing as a typical shop-
per. Customers range from executives to
garbage collectors, from teachers to bank
tellers. (Because tellers are expected to
dress well but are not necessarily paid a
fortune, some banks routinely pass on the
names of local thrift shops to new em-
ployees, Mrs. Smiley says.)
Some customers are regular (as in every
day) and others one-timers. "You never
know who will come in and that's what
makes it interesting," Mrs. Smiley says.
There's also the donors. "I can look
through two bags (of donations) and tell
you more about these people than their
best friends." She prefers not to go into too
much detail about some of the more dis-
tasteful donations, though, saying only,
"There are things you don't want to see."
An Ungaro suit for $75.
A pair of Nikes for $7.50
And a "Dream Boy" (would Gwen
ever find true love?) for 10 cents.
his place was packed on Purim, with
shoppers looking for the good, the
bad and especially the ugly.
"They wanted the ugliest ties, the
worst-fitting suits, old and brightly col-
ored, ugly gowns — anything outrageous,"
ClothespORT chairman Cindy Franklin
The customers were yeshiva students
in search of the offbeat. Where better to
find something affordable and fun and
strange for Purim than at a resale shop.
Located on Nine Mile in Ferndale, the
ClothespORT is one of national ORT's
most profitable shops, bringing in $40,000
net last year. It's a well-organized, clean
and pleasant place to browse, with work-
A look at some of the treasures at local thrift shops.