An Urban Treasure Hunt: Value Village by Elizabeth Crabtree

Houston
7645 Dashwood Dr.
Houston, TX 77036
TEL (713) 772-8003

November 2010–The second hand store called Value Village is only a fifteen minute or so drive down forty-five south from my school and home, University of Houston.If Mandie drives it only takes about ten minutes, cruising at about eighty miles per an hour. The smell of smoke blows back in through the open window despite her efforts to keep it out of the truck and I begin to feel the sting of my allergies and cough while rubbing an eye. My skin prickles from the cold air whipping in through the window.

As Mandie and I begin to get closer and closer to the area we begin to notice the slow change form everyday normal businesses to convenience stores and adult shops. They pepper the strip malls like bruises on skin. We exit near a place called Ritz Cabaret and make a u-turn under forty-five. The windows of the truck are down and the smell of garbage is prominent in the humid air left by the recent rain and my stomach turns. We pass even more adult shops that look even seedier then the first ones.

Once we arrived I began to feel slightly out of place; my pale skin, blue eyes, and strawberry blonde hair sticking out like a sore thumb in a sea of tans, brown/black eyes, and dark hair. Eyes grill onto our backs like a brand. Though I know most of it was my small town paranoia. These guys were just the same as my friends at home. I suddenly wished I hadn’t left without at least one guy friend, any guy friend, just a guy. It seemed like we were the only teenage girls there. But unfortunately Mandie didn’t think that we needed any one along for reassurance.

As we pull into the parking lot of Value Village with the windows down my stomach turned, my eyes watered, and I swear the my heart stopped for like a whole ten seconds. The smell of something rotting was both nauseating and burning and it grew even stronger upon exiting the truck. Sad excuses for cars were parked higgly piggly about the parking lot and many of them had some rather interesting characters staring both curiously and confused. Stepping in a puddle of the foulest smelling water while trying to keep an eye on one of the more intimidating characters I cussed quietly under my breath. Finally, we reached the glass doors of the store which were all reinforced with cold steel bars like a prison that held “treasures” waiting to be rescued. Thankful to be out of the smelly parking lot I took one last look at the cheap adult and liquor stores to the side of us.

The smell inside was not even close to an improvement from the out door air to my dismay. The stench of rotting something or other is now replaced by air that stings the sense of smell with the combination of cleaning solution, old clothes, and mildew; at least they were keeping the inside of the store clean.

Everything still feels dirty from the humid air though and I try not to touch my face once I have started rummaging through the button up shirts and t-shirts along side Mandie in search of the precious pearl snaps and humorous novelty T’s that we both love. Many of the shirts are stained with unidentifiable splotches. This didn’t seem to faze any of the other shoppers so we decided to follow suit. After all what college student can resist clothing that only costs a buck fifty per a shirt? My only protest was that I couldn’t be sure that some of the shirts had been washed before drop off. Although I’m pretty sure that it’s a requirement that they be washed, stains or no stains before they are dropped off.

While we were wandering up and down the multitude of rows and rows of peculiar smelling clothing I begin to notice the tired and some resentful faces of young and old staring blankly around and at others. A couple of times I got some looks that didn’t make me feel all to welcome. Mandie’s hand firmly gripping my arm confirmed it as she steered me towards a more college student populated area. I was even more convinced when we went to wait for help and the “jewelry case” which contained old copper bracelets, cheap clip-on earrings, and pins beneath the badly scratched glass that reminded me of an ice skating rink right before they smooth it back out. Every employee stared but not one moved to help us. You could tell from the cart loads of children and children’s clothing that this was their “mall” and we were the invaders. I also noticed a few other lone college students milling about the isles on the way to the jewelry. Even a kid from a class I had last semester who said hello as I passed.

Eventually Mandie managed to corner an employee to open the glass case for us who like many of the other employees could barely speech any English and so we had to communicate with a mixture of pointing, shaking and nodding of heads. It took many mistakes on both our parts before we finally got what we wanted from the case. We then headed to the cash register with its non-smiling cashier and checked out. As soon as we had what we wanted we began to walk towards the iron bar clad doors.

Once in the parking lot I began to feel the curious eyes of those who were waiting in their cars for their families to buy their clothes, dishware, toys or the odd appliance or coffee table. It may just be me but staring makes me incredible paranoid and or nervous. Yet this didn’t stop us from rushing to jump into Mandie’s big, maroon, Chevy truck to get the heck out of there as fast as we humanly could. After all we had little time before we were supposed to be ready to leave for Wild West to dance, and we still had to wash our new finds.

While I had grown accustomed to the smell inside and it had stopped bothering me. The smell outside however, seemed even stronger upon our exit and I managed not to step in and of the pot-holes of murky water; semi-iridescent from the leaking cars. The air felt thick and wet, like wading through a swamp.

As we made our get away, I noticed that I had broken out into a clammy sweat due to the uncomfortable way I had felt while shopping at Value Village . I could no longer feel the piercing stare of curious eyes on my back, but I remembered them and I still felt like all I wanted and desperately needed was a good shower. I know that most of it was just in my mind, but I felt filthy after just walking in that store; I think it may have been the look of the floor; sickly looking linoleum and the humidity.

A feeling of relief washed over me after we had gotten in the truck, locked the doors, and started the engine. As we left the parking lot, got back on forty-five, left the adult stores strip malls, and the one lone Office Max behind us the air rushing in our open windows, I could breathe with more ease, well sort of Mandie has begun to smoke again. The familiar orange sign of Whataburger brings back the cheer our trip started with in the speedy truck. The gloom and exhaustion had been lifted. All was forgotten at the thought of a Whataburger and our lives moved on for us outside of the thrift shops and seedy strip malls and the hunt for clothes at Value Village.

Map:

Links:

Value Village

Retail Worker

Simon Fraser University

Mercer Island Reporter

Shopping Centers Today

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