Thursday, February 4, 2016

Thrifty Acres: Birthday Bargains In Ann Arbor

Hello! My birthday, which was this past Saturday, is often a day that has horrible weather - as in blizzards that keep everyone home.

This year was different, though: the forecast called for sun and above-normal temps. So as a birthday treat to me, my husband planned a trip to Ann Arbor, Michigan. As a bonus, we picked up our daughter on the way so she could spend the day with us. 

Now, despite being a college town, Ann Arbor isn't exactly known for being an inexpensive place to shop. But being thrifty-minded, I went to a couple of places that do have bargains: thrift stores run by the Kiwanis and Ann Arbor PTO organizations. 

I only had a short while to shop at the Kiwanis thrift store located at the edge of the downtown area. It doesn't look like much from the outside, but when you go inside, you encounter a rabbit's den of rooms on several floors, each with its own "department". And unlike other thrift stores I've been to, you pay as you go in each department. As I was waiting to pay for two craft magazines in the book section, a woman came up with her purchase, a saw she'd found in the nearby hardware "department". So of course she was told to pay for it over in the hardware section. 

Like I'd said, this is different than the typical way of ringing up all the purchases at once, but this store is in an old building and is rather crammed full of merchandise, volunteers and shoppers. So perhaps their pay-as-you-go system is meant to prevent backups at checkout time.

One reason why this store is crowded with shoppers is its limited hours: Saturdays, 9am-noon. That's it. However, another location has been added, on the west side of town. Its hours are Fridays and Saturdays, 9am-1pm. Still pretty limited hours, but that's how they roll, apparently. 

Lots of stuff to see in this store; my meager purchase is indicative only of the little time I had to spend there. If you'd like to see for yourself, learn more here.

Fortunately, I had more time allotted at the Ann Arbor PTO thrift store. Unlike most thrift stores I've been to, there's really not a lot of housewares, and the book section is nothing special either IMO. So why would I want to spend my birthday at this particular thrift store? For me, the following photos are the reason why:

Fabric remnants
More fabric remnants
Craft patterns on the bottom shelf

And this is just a small portion of what was available - there was more fabric and more categories of sewing patterns too. There's also a selection of craft/sewing books, arts/crafts kits in various states of used/unused, rubber stamps, scrapbooking supplies, and a long wooden cabinet with drawers on each side. Each drawer is for a different arts/craft supply, like sewing notions, purse handles, dollmaking supplies, and much more. If you like to save money while stocking up on arts and crafts supplies, this is your place! 

(While looking through the sewing books, I encountered a woman who said she comes to this store several times a week. She lives only about a mile away, lucky her!)

Like with any thrift store, prices can be hit or miss. I happen to think the prices on kits are a little high, but the fabric and pattern prices are reasonable, so that's what I zeroed in on.

As you may have noticed from the two photos from the remnant section, there's a lot of digging around to be done there if you're choosy about fabric. I am, so I found it more worth my while to visit another multi-drawer cabinet - this one seems to focus more on pieces intended for, or left over from, quilting projects. Here, I found several bags of colorful remnant pieces, perfect for my own quilting project. Here's a portion of what I bought:

Colorful fabrics are great to work with on overcast winter days, although I really lucked out, weather-wise on my birthday. Not only was it sunny, but it was in the upper 40's in Ann Arbor. And,  unlike where I live, there was no snow on the ground! 

More fabric:

I think that at least some of these pieces are vintage, which is why I bought the bagful. Since they were jumbled up together in the bag, I'd though these fabrics had been cut in strips, and so I thought they'd be fun to turn into a chain to hang up. But when I got home, I found that hexagon-like shapes had been cut from the fabrics. I can still get a chain-like effect, though, if I put the pieces together like this:

I also bought a kirigami (Japanese-style paper folding/cutting)page-a-day calendar. Okay, it was from 2008, and has a couple of weeks missing from the beginning of January (maybe somebody had tried it but gave up after awhile?), but what do you want for a couple of bucks? It's still fun to do:

Above, a few Kirigami shapes grace our TV stand. Thus far, the designs have been easy to fold and cut, but it looks like the designs become more complicated as the year progresses. 

But my favorite find was this:

Circa 1975, a sewing pattern for toys. This one has a fun twist, though:

The girl's dress has a pocket for holding one of the toys; one cat-shaped toy is in the pocket and the girl is holding another cat toy. This pattern set includes the pattern for the pocket as well as for the toys, which are all sized, of course, to fit in that pocket.

How cute is that? I wish I'd had this pattern when our daughter was young; I think she would have liked it and the sewing is easy too. This would be a good gift: just buy a top or dress in the child's size, sew on the pocket, and add one of the toys. 

Admittedly, the toys look a little funky today, like the cat:

I think I'd shape the body a little differently, and sew on mismatched buttons (or do swallow-proof eyes for a young child). But overall, I do like the concept!

If you'd like to check out the Ann Arbor PTO thrift store yourself, go here here for more info. 

And if you go on your birthday, as I did, there's another bonus: a birthday discount. I didn't happen to see it posted at the register, but figured there was no harm in asking if such a discount existed. By doing so, I saved 25% on my bill.

Of course, we did more spendy things on my birthday, such as lunch at Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor (expensive but very good sandwiches) and dinner from El Azteco in East Lansing (where I sometimes went for birthday dinners when I lived there.) 

I returned home, tired but happy - a snowless, sunny day in Ann Arbor, the bonus of seeing our daughter again, great meals and thrift store bargains. It had been a great birthday!



  1. Happy belated birthday! What a cool thrift store! I wish we had fabric remnants in shops here in Sweden, I've never seen anything like that just big pieces of table cloth, fabric and old curtains of course. But oh, it would be dangerous to go in there... hehe... :-)

  2. Thank you for commenting, Hanna! I don't know, maybe Swedish people are more diligent in using their fabrics and so they don't have remnants to donate to thrift stores? I never leave a thrift store without checking for fabric remnants - never know what you'll find!