D.C. Diary: Sweet steals

The United Church
Wednesday, Oct. 27
11:30 a.m.

Each year the basement of the United Church on 20th and G streets is transformed into a bargain hunter’s dream.

During the last week in October members of the church organize the Fall Sale to raise money for the church. Items that are sold are collected all year from neighbors, friends and members of the congregation. After the sale the leftover items are given to charity.

Christa Linder, a member of the church who has volunteered at the sale for about 20 years, says the sale has grown over time.

People come from all around – students, people from the World Bank too, she says. We haven’t had Bill Clinton come – maybe one day.

Just walking into the sale, which runs Wednesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., is overwhelming. Feathered hats from the 1940s, rainbow belts, size 0 evening gowns, tweed pants, checkered shirts, sequined blouses, flowered baskets, leisure suits, winter coats, unfinished needlepoint sets, an Indiana-Jones-type suitcase, Old Navy ensembles and that pink sweater you wore in your third-grade picture are piled onto rows of tables. Cheap and unique treasures are bursting out the door. Everything is for sale. It’s enough to make a seasoned thrift shopper cry.

Wait a minute! This one has sparkles on it! Sequins are great, a woman shopper shouts from behind a mountain of plaid.

With about 50 shoppers rummaging through the piles at once, the room is a whirlwind of flying polyester. Imagine traders at the New York Stock Exchange bargaining at a garage sale. Don’t be fooled. The volunteers at the sale are the nicest people you’ve ever met, but they are not afraid to haggle.

This kind of shopping isn’t for the faint-hearted. It’s like searching around the attic in your grandmother’s house. You can find tiny little treasures in the oddest places, but you’ll have to sift through a lot of junk too. The secret is to take your time and keep going back.

For GW students the sale is a chance to find unique items and avoid mall prices.

I’ve been trying to find a thrift store in D.C., but they’re all vintage and really expensive, freshman Abby Markoe says as she struggles to hold the huge ball of clothes in her arms. You can get some cool stuff. I’m coming back tomorrow to get a shopping bag.

While the mountains of clothes are being ravaged in one room, the German ladies of the church (which has a German-speaking congregation) are cooking some traditional dishes in the kitchen. The luncheon runs from 11:30 until 2 p.m. on both days. Brownies, cakes, cookies and breads are for sale. Be careful, the lemon bars are addictive. The sauerkraut, sausages, chocolate cake and German potato salad can make calorie-counters cringe and food-lovers weak at the knees.

On the second day of the sale, which is Thursday this year, shoppers can pay five dollars for a shopping bag, and they can put as many clothes as they want. The shopping bag offer doesn’t happen until Thursday afternoon.

Be prepared to be aggressive when this lightning round strikes. There’s something in the atmosphere during the final hours of a thrift sale that can make even the most polite shopper snatch a super-cool fuzzy sweater right out from under you. This D.C. Diary reporter almost nabbed a warm, wool coat last year, but during a moment of hesitation another bargain-hungry sale-seeker bought the coat. Be strong, stand your ground.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.