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THE GRAND POOBAH OF THRIFTING
While not technically a thrift store (more like a retro clearing house), The Garage Sale has the finest selection of kitsch this side of East Berlin. There you can buy, sell, and trade your way to high-level hipsterdom (imagine: a new wardrobe every season without spending another dime).
Yosh Toi, owner and Reedley High grad, got his start in the business nearly two decades ago, buying the entire unwanted contents of a house for $1,000. Now he gets customers from around the world. He says half his business is done here, the other international. "I've got good clients coming from overseas [Japan]. Well, some of it comes from China too. I got a couple people coming from Taiwan, couple from France and Germany I see when I go down to LA. I meet people from all over the world. You gotta have access to get rid of the stuff."
"Every month we get 7-15 merchants coming from Japan," Yosh estimates (Fresno Famous has in fact witnessed Japanese people loading the merch directly into suitcases). In addition to store visits, Yosh says "Iím shipping one or two different containers, hopefully once maybe every other month to Japan. I get people who have shops in Melrose, down in L.A., come up a at least once, twice a month. If you sell it here for $150 in Fresno, you'll probably get $450 in LA."
So where does all the cool stuff come from? Not just Fresno, but Marysville and Citrus Heights in the Sacramento area; Santa Cruz; San Luis Obispo; Reno, Nevada; and as he explains, El Paso, Texas. "El Paso is probably one of the best hot spots for vintage clothing. This is what I was told: YMCA, Salvation Army, send a bunch of vintage clothing to Mexico. And then they got smart, and the next time the people pick [vintage] things up and send it back to the United States. So, they get it for free, from church people, and now they know we're selling these things- kind of hot commodity right?- now what they do, is they get it, and ship it back to the United States. The quickest way to get the stuff is through El Paso, Texas." How's that for economic opportunity?
Occasionally, Yosh will join the other "pickers" and go through thrift stores. More often, he buys at estate sales. "Estate sales are the only way to get nice vintage clothing." says Yosh. This helps explain why there is such a lamentable dearth of women's vintage clothing available in the store. "Amazingly, I guess ladies live longer than men. I'm kind of a trying to find an outlet for [women's] vintage clothing, which I'm doing right now. Ladies spend more money, girls spend more money on clothing than men. So, thanks for reminding me, that's part of the stuff I'm going to get into more deeply." Your humble correspondent wishes him Godspeed.
So after 20 years in the retro business, what has been his greatest success? "About 15 years ago, 1990-1997, we sold a bunch of Levis 501s. We used to buy them for about 10 bucks on the street, and sometimes there's some vintage- from 1930's, 40's and 50's. I sold it for a couple thousand." If you ever run across a pair of Leviís with a capital "E" (meaning they were manufactured prior to 1971), you know you've hit the jackpot.
For Yosh, the appeal of all things retro is uniqueness.
"It's hard to find two exact same things. I kinda like the retro thing, furniture, retro stuff, mid century- 50's, 60's stuff. I like antiques, collectables. The main thing I like about it is the clothing."
For him, it's the thrill of the hunt. "Most of the joy you get in this kind of business is when you find- you see something that you like, that you know is going to sell right away."
For all his expertise, predicting the next craze hasn't gotten any easier. "Right now, 80's is getting hotter. Next thing? It's pretty unpredictable, I wish I knew." He says most of his guidance comes from fashion-forward Tokyo. "In Japan, vintage has been popular since 1980's... [right now] Japan really likes letterman jackets. In a couple of years, you know, maybe American kids will want letterman jackets."
But for now, Yosh thinks Pendelton coats, whose plaid flannel look screams "grunge", are going to be hot. He explains it goes in cycles, 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's, and back. Now, scarily enough, weíll have to add "90's" to the circuit.
The Garage Sale is the only game in town when it comes to serious selection and variety. If you like to bargain, all prices are negotiable.
The Garage Sale is located at 320 N. Palm Ave., just north of Divisadero. Phone: 485-2939.