Unlike most thrift shops, this one is legendary for its bumper crop of designer goods amid the more prosaic stock. According to Thrift Shop board treasurer Lynda MacCarthy, Prada tops, and Jimmy Choo shoes often arrive with tags still in place. Current-season Louis Vuitton handbags have even been known to surface from the heaps of hand-me-downs deposited in the alley behind the store.
But as at all thrift shops, everyday bargains abound. Where else could you get a T-shirt and a beer mug for a buck? Or a cashmere sweater for six? The Thrift Shop is also a veritable jackpot for budget-minded book lovers. Mo LaMee, director of the Aspen Writers’ Foundation, left with an armload of hardcovers recently for roughly the cost of a trade paperback on Amazon. Not long ago, a new-in-box first edition of the Ken Kesey classic One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest turned up.
With the expansion of the luxury-brand juggernaut in Aspen’s commercial core (underscored by Dolce & Gabbana’s recent supplanting of the Gap), the Thrift Shop stands as the last best bulwark against the relentless high-ending of town. Ellen Walbert, a Thrift Shop volunteer since 1999, notes that a seasonal worker can still outfit an entire apartment at the store—and probably for a lot less than the price of a ski pass. In fact, the Thrift Shop may be single-handedly keeping that edge-of-extinction icon, the Aspen Ski Bum, alive.
Even more impressive than the bargains, however, is the force of nature that makes it all possible. The Ladies of the Thrift Shop, as they are known, are an all-volunteer corps of 140 women who work an aggregate 5,000 hours annually to pay Aspen’s monumental consumerism forward. Last year alone, the Ladies awarded half a million dollars in grants and scholarships to Roaring Fork Valley nonprofits and students. Since the year 2000, the Thrift Shop has poured a whopping $4 million back into the community.
And that figure doesn’t include the steady stream of in-kind contributions: cell phones go directly to Response and similar organizations combating domestic violence. Telescopes are dispatched to the Aspen Science Center. Oversize toys are carted off to day cares. Teachers’ wish lists get fulfilled—all free of charge.
Dollar for dollar, the Thrift Shop of Aspen is arguably the leanest, most efficient philanthropic organization in the valley. “We consider ourselves to be part of the old Aspen values system,” says MacCarthy. “When you give to the Thrift Shop, you are giving to this community.”