Bargain hunting on an Abercrombie campus

10:50 a.m.
Thursday, Oct. 24
21st and G streets

“Coffee, doughnuts, bagels! Fall sale today!”

A United Church member, with a green felt hat atop his gray head, lures passers-by to the brownstone church across from the GW Law School. It’s that time of year again, characterized by a brisk autumn breeze and items spilling out of the church’s basement door – shelves, glass aquariums, even a TV litter the sidewalk leading the way down a set of cement stairs to the Methodist church’s annual fall sale.

“Fall sale, German lunch today too! Great bargains in there!”

A few patrons are lined up outside, waiting for the doors to open at 11 a.m.

Once inside, dishes, cups, books, records and clothes spread out before customers in the church’s tiny basement. I go right for the clothes. On a limited budget of time and money, I am searching for a few particular items, one of which is a cardigan sweater. Though I’m not usually one for trends, this was one fashion I’d noticed becoming “in” this fall and decided to join – at less-than-J Crew-prices.

I start at the far corner of rows of folding tables piled high with used clothing. There seems to be no organization to their placement, though to the careful eye the remnants of a system – pants here, T-shirts and sweaters there – begin to appear.

I bend down and turn my head sideways to get a cross-section view of the piles. From this hawk’s eye vantage point, the savvy flea market shopper can get spot potential purchases in heaps of clothing that have already been picked over for a day now. I look for anything – a pattern, fabric or brand-name tag – that interests me, periodically pulling out pieces ranging from stained and moth-eaten sweaters to old baseball camp jerseys.

I hear some volunteers from the church’s congregation, which is half German-speaking, comment on the items as they attempt to straighten the ravaged piles of clothing.

“Vhat is dis he-ahr? Eetza miss-tahry,” one woman exclaims about a strappy garment her companion ventures to guess is a top.

Making my way to the other side, I see my roommate poring over a box of socks. Some people might be above buying socks at a used clothing sale, but I’m glad to see she’s not because judging from my empty drawer that morning, they are on my shopping list right now.

“Ooh!” she exclaims and darts out her hand to grasp a red pair with Christmas decorations. While Jewish, she proceeds to proclaim that Christmas socks are “the best.”

Not so, I tell her, unfurling a turquoise and white pair with pink flamingoes on them. Touche.

Soon I am ready to abandon the tables and move on the racks that line the right wall, labeled with handwritten fluorescent signs that announce “ladies blazers” and “men’s sweaters and polos.”

I leave my armload of selected clothes with one volunteer who encourages me to “go and hunt some more.” After quickly perusing the racks and returning with two more shirts, it’s decision-making time.

Now is the part where my cheap side comes out. The items of clothing range from $1 to $5 and the money is for charity. Shouldn’t I just buy the whole pile?

Nope, somehow I just can’t see packing my closet even one item fuller of unnecessary clothing, and besides, for this weekend it’s between that sweater and a beer or two. A good rule of thumb, if you can think of a way to improve it, don’t buy it. That way you won’t be disappointed every time you wear something, ultimately leading to its demise as a closet corner dweller.

So I put down a fuzzy green and brown number the lady taking money nearby is convinced sports “my colors,” and pare my selections down to a few shirts and, of course, the socks, though I am short one cardigan.

I interrupt a stream of German to inquire as to the price of my selections – $5.

It’s lunchtime and the smell of sauerkraut begins to permeate the air. I’m drawn to the line for bratwurst and potato salad, which is stretching out the door. Lunch tray in hand, I take a seat on the stage that is the makeshift dining area behind the plants and cookies. From this vantage point I spot it – a cream-colored cardigan sweater hanging on the end of one the racks I somehow missed.

Five more dollars and a German chocolate brownie later, my shopping is complete.

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