Left in Andover: Treasures within the thrift shops

By Susan Leader
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The boxes of hand-me-downs mailed to us every fall by Mom’s cousins in Cincinnati were a high point of my young life growing up in Andover. We kids had never met these cousins in person but, like clockwork, one of them seemed to have always just outgrown my size school dresses, jackets, socks and underwear.

Unpacking the boxes was a family affair sitting around the fireplace in our living room. After making a display of my loot along the back of the sofa, my next favorite part was the fireworks as Dad burned the oversized cardboard shipping boxes in his cavernous homemade fireplace. The flames roared up like an engine then subsided to an orange glow.

Susan’s treasured boiled wool coat from the Thrifty Attic.

Mom did not prioritize providing me fashionable clothes to wear to school. Maybe she just didn’t dare to go there, given our limited family budget and her lack of sewing skills. She let Dad do our shopping at second hand stores such as The Mission in Rutland.

Footwear in particular was a source of trauma for me. Dad failed to understand how much I hated sensible Buster Brown shoes – for boys. My recourse was to finagle him into purchasing a new pair of canvas Keds style sneakers for me once a year. I wore them until nothing was left.

My older sister somehow acquired a pair of stylish flats when she attended school in Simonsville. She would fish them out of her school bag for a last minute switcheroo out of our parents line of vision, just before the school bus pulled in. I was the only witness as she tucked her pair of Dad’s evil monstrosities under the stonewall, to be retrieved at the end of the day.

In junior high home economics class I finally alleviated my wardrobe distress by learning to sew my own clothes. But not before I had pined all sixth grade year for a maroon pleated skirt and pink blouse with a round collar like the other girls wore. I still want that iconic outfit of 1962.

When I had children of my own in the mid-1980s, I was determined they have normal, socially acceptable clothes to wear for school – even in their early grades when we were still living in a cabin with no running water.

The Thrifty Attic in Londonderry is a great place to shop for fashionable second-hand clothes.

Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, for me and many other local parents, this meant storming the Holyoke Mall in Massachusetts for long Saturdays at the Gap, Abercrombie and Payless. For one of my kids, frustratingly, almost nothing fit properly. For the other, she looked great in everything, making her just as problematic.

The great blessing for my budget as well as sanity was that thrift shopping had become socially acceptable, even trendy, by then. Thrifty Attic, our go-to second-hand mecca in Londonderry, was perennially well-stocked thanks to the generous donations of local community members as well as area second homeowners.

Joining the flock of friendly, mostly female shoppers on any Wednesday or Saturday morning at the Thrift was akin to being swept inside a noisy warm beehive. Many times over the years, especially on raw winter mornings after dropping my kids off at school, I stopped by just to bathe in the happy group energy.

A silk flower girl’s dress from the Thrift is ready for the next family wedding.

Thrifty Attic moved to its permanent location next to the Second Congregational Church in the 1980s. It is staffed by volunteers, some of whom have served the organization for more than30 years. Fulfilling a mission to provide the community with clean used clothing in excellent condition at little cost, most items are priced under $5. Yet the proceeds add up. Over the decades Thrifty Attic has donated all its profits, supporting almost every local cause large and small, from arts in the school to the fire department.

One of my daughters recalls a high school classmate showing up in to-die-for butter soft, knee high leather boots. They were from Thrifty Attic! That pair of $250 Frye Boots we all shared for years – Thrifty Attic, of course. I cannot count the times I have been complimented upon a treasured cashmere sweater or boiled wool coat. My routine is to look down for a second, then confess with an unabashed grin, “Thrifty Attic!”

The rule at the Thrift has always been that we are not allowed to touch any newly introduced item of clothing until one of the volunteers has plucked it out of the staging area at the bottom of the stairs and put it out on a shelf or hanger. Those in the know follow the ladies around like a shadow, to gain first dibs on a barely worn white silk flower girl dress, Garnet Hill flannel sheet set or Lululemon yoga pants.

Closed sign at the Thrifty Attic, another sign of the pandemic.

Thrifty Attic is not currently accepting new donations, and will be closing for this winter due to the pandemic. I am fortunate to have already stocked up on a lifetime supply of coats, jackets, towels and straw hats. But that won’t prevent my standing in line at 8 a.m. sharp for the grand reopening next spring. I now have four young grandchildren to outfit.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeLeft in Andover

About the Author: Vermont native and noted potter Susan Leader grew up on Popplewood Farm in Andover. At age 17, she was inspired to take up the potter's wheel by "a charismatic potter" from the Society of Vermont Craftsman. She spent 18 months apprenticing at pottery villages throughout Japan. She returned to Popplewood Farm, where she and her husband, fiddle player John Specker, raised their two daughters.

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