Cheap Shopping Trip: Goodwill Outlet

And now for something completely different: A field trip in search of good stuff at over 90% off original price. A lot of what I wear is from the Goodwill Outlet in St. Paul. There’s also one in Brooklyn Park, and many cities across the States have one. Goodwill outlets catch the overflow from the goods donated to Goodwill that the stores can’t make room for anymore, so, as with any thrift store, the goodness of the goods might depend on your area. This spring at Goodwill St. Paul at 553 Fairview Ave. 55104, the overflow is abundant, if you’re willing to do the digging.

I do mean digging. The outlet is nothing more than a large space filled with large wheeled bins that look like small dumpsters. The first time I walked into this place after it converted from a regular store with racks of clothing, I was a bit confused. Was this the right place? But other shoppers were pulling out clothing, holding it up, piling it in carts, looking perfectly comfortable, so I joined in.

Many shoppers will fill a cart like this, to get a reduced price per pound.
A typical dump bin filled with mostly clothing

Soon I learned that the best time to come was Sundays, when new shipments come to the outlet. Some of it is still in donation bags; some items have tags from the larger Goodwill store at Griggs and University Ave, having not sold there. A new bin of clothing will be wheeled out into the middle of the outlet, and shoppers will patiently wait until they’re told they can start digging. Then they go at it like kids at Christmas. I stand back and let them tear the bags open, then peer over their shoulders to see what they’re finding.

They wheel out the new bins, the shoppers wait until they say go, then everyone tears into them. This is an unparalleled shopping experience.

On one trip, I saw a woman give up on a bag of clothing that was not her size; it was my size, and when I looked further into it, I found a hardly-worn dress from The North Face, which probably originally cost over $60.

I’m ready for summer!

Finds like this aren’t all that uncommon. I’ve found brands like Lululemon, Black House White Market, Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, pretty much you name it. A lot of people fall out of love with good-as-new clothing and simply don’t want to bother with consignment.

A cozy, flawless wool blend dress from Aryeh that also probably retailed for over $60

Obviously this is not for everyone. It’s a bit of work; I have to limit the time I spend hunting, keeping in mind that time is valuable too. If you’re sensitive, you might find that you start to sneeze after 20 minutes or so. Some shoppers come with gloves and masks; you’re not sure where this stuff has been. Indeed, in areas that have bedbugs, they have found their way in. I’m not squeamish, but anything I buy goes straight into a laundry bag and washed immediately. Bedbugs are easily killed in the dryer, but once they have spread, the expense of having them exterminated could negate all your bargain shopping.

You do find some funky junk here
A little disturbing that this T-shirt exists, but kind of good to see that no one wants it
Anyone need some luggage?

If that doesn’t make you squeamish, welcome to a unique and fun and unique shopping experience. Really. Everyone is friendly and it’s interesting to see what other shoppers are grabbing. Often when I’m shopping alone, I can share a laugh with the person standing next to me as we try to guess what we’ll uncover next. Sometimes you find an interesting corner of fabric and pull it out but still don’t know what it is until you hold it all the way up by two corners. Is it a flag? Is it a pillowcase? Ohmigod it’s shorts!

My track buddy and I found a shirt, also donated by the 7-foot lumberjack who donated the shorts, big enough for both of us to fit into. Good times.

On any day, it’s hit-or-miss; some days I won’t find anything worth taking up closet space, some days I hit the jackpot. Most days I find at least something, a silk scarf, or a kitchen gadget in a bin of small assorted household goods. Many of the other shoppers are filling carts, shopping for the whole family and going for the reduced price-per-pound for going over 10 pounds. I figure $1.69 per pound is cheap enough. Some of the shoppers are resellers, and in the New Brighton outlet, some of them have gotten a bit territorial, but in the St. Paul outlet it’s all Minnesota Nice.

Furniture generally sells for $5-25 per piece, and is a handy place to keep your bored spouse while you shop.

On one recent jackpot day, I got two summer tunics, four long-sleeve shirts including a light sweater from Banana Republic and a cozy shirt from Cuddl Duds, a Hollister zip hoodie, an Umbro athletic hoodie (I like hoodies) a bra tank, a pair of Juicy sweatpants, and a couple of other casual items. A quick peek at a small appliances palate revealed a heated straightening brush that I know retails for over $20, and an apple slicer from Pampered Chef that looked new and was quite sharp. I wasn’t sure if I’d use an apple slicer, but since it hardly cost me anything, I decided to try it and do the other shoppers the service of taking it out of harm’s way – a hasty shopper or a grabby kid might have gotten hurt. I got it all for $10.71.

Hollister, Merona, Umbro, Athleta, Juicy
Same trip: Wear-to-work
Same trip: Sleeveless sweater, glitter tank

If you can afford to find exactly what you want online brand new, good for you. If you want the whole shopping experience, free of that funky thrift store smell, with lots of customer service, you sure don’t want to be essentially dumpster-diving for your clothing.

But if you’re like me, and the manufacturer’s suggested price seems like a swindle, and you’ve had enough of those mall places where they show you to a fitting room and write your name on the door so that they can come back in five minutes and sing, “Dan-YELL, how are those working out for you?” when you’re half-naked and half-crying in there because it’s not working out at all because you have chunky calves and narrow hips and vanity sizing has left you clueless where to start…okay, maybe you can’t relate to ALL that, but if you’d rather just be left alone to try stuff on, the real people at Goodwill will let you be. No one will ask if you’re “finding everything okay.”

A bonus is that this is better for the environment.
At the checkout, they have reused-and-reusable bags for your stuff. I just bring my own.

On a recent visit, one nice couple had their kid try on some jeans right there in the middle of the outlet. I thought, why not? I had a pair of jeans I wasn’t sure would fit, and I was wearing leggings. They didn’t fit, and as I was struggling to get them off, a man was walking up to where I stood, and began to think I had picked the wrong time to abandon self-consciousness, but all he said was, “That’s how you gotta do it; once you bought it, it’s yours.” Gratefully I replied, “Yeah, you know it.” (Truth; no returns on anything.)

If you’re planning on running the Twin Cities Marathon or another large late-fall race, this is a good place to grab some oversized sweats to wear once and leave at the start line. Or you could wait and see if they’ll let the marathoners warm up in the “People’s Stadium.” Ha.

Every now and then they get some surplus items which they place near the front. Today I got some spray-on sunscreen for $1, and it works fine. Also, some crayons, a T-shirt, leggings with a zipper pocket, and jeans that fit!

Good times. See you soon.

In a glitter shirt I got from guess where


One thought on “Cheap Shopping Trip: Goodwill Outlet

  1. Excellent post Danielle! Thank you for all the tips and specific details. I consider myself a bargain hunter, but those bins have intimidated me in the past. Your post makes me want to give them a shot. Also, your pictures are great!


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