Entering the Unique Thrift Store at 51st and Kedzie on Black Friday, you are not greeted–you are assailed. Christmas hat-wearing employees exclaim “Happy Thanksgiving!” or “Â¿CÃ³mo estÃ¡s?” A festive balloon arch frames the waving signs proclaiming sale prices–50 percent off all yellow-stickered items! 75 percent off all blue! The atmosphere is gleefully summed up on a poster next to the entrance: a smiling family stands above the caption “Shopping for the family is fun and affordable!!”
My dad and I separate almost immediately, but most of the families resemble the one in the poster–traveling in groups, discussing individual items and wading through the assortment of trinkets placed between rows of clothing. There are no Water Tower Place Black Friday-style suburban mothers wrestling for marked-down designer bags–here, in spite of the ridiculously low prices, it’s less a frantic competition than an exploration. Two boys in pajamas examine a set of figurines–a cactus, a coyote, and what appears to be a smiling Native American chief. A young girl holds a pink flowery shirt out in front of her sister, who pronounces judgment: “Ew, it looks old. Muy feo.” Speakers overhead play “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” occasionally interrupted by announcements in both English and Spanish and by crying babies. Strollers almost outnumber the shopping carts, and then some shopping carts double as strollers; one contains a toddler almost submerged in sweaters, cradling a basketball.
Looking past the kitchenware and through the open door of the storage room, I see an employee rolling an Indiana Jones boulder—sized ball of clothes. Why they organize the clothes in this manner I have no idea–just like I don’t know why there’s an empty pack of Cheetos next to the glassware or why my dad bought a record of an all-harmonica band (“They play ‘Mac the Knife’! Cool, right?”). But I guess the answer could lie in the other poster near the front, daring customers to “Create something unique–like you!” Each of the haphazardly arranged objects and each clothing item collected was once part of someone’s world, and here it moves to someone else’s.
A trip to Unique doesn’t involve getting up at 3am or almost getting trampled by a mob, and it doesn’t even have to happen on Black Friday. Searching for that one-of-a-kind sequined blazer is always exciting–and at Unique the joy of the hunt lasts all year. (Rachel Lazar)