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Holiday shop for less at local thrift stores

Shopper Ted Chase did most of his Christmas shopping at The Spare Room in Westminster.

"I got a Christmas throw for a family member. It's the perfect kind of Christmas gift for someone who wants to sit down and pull something nice across their lap," he said. "It cost $5. I got crystal for a set of newlyweds for $7.50 and an almost brand new love seat for $40.

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"Things are well constructed, in good condition, clean and bright and colorful."

Everyone is hunting for a bargain when doing their holiday shopping, and Carroll has thrift shops throughout the county, most of which benefit nonprofits that offer services in the community. The Spare Room, for example, benefits the Westminster Rescue Mission, which operates a resident recovery program for men, among other outreach.

"It's an opportunity to invest in giving back to the community at a fraction of the cost," Chase said. "And I can extend my Christmas giving because I am saving money. You don't know until you've had a chance to go in and see what they have. It makes it possible to buy those extra little gifts and share the holiday spirit.

"I am a thrift store convert at this point," he said.

"I put a sign out every day," said Kara Gasper, who oversees the Spare Room. "Right now it says, 'Does Christmas have you clueless?' Here you can find the things you didn't know you were looking for. As soon as you see it you know that Uncle Bob will love it."

Items available at thrift stores can vary based on donations, but that's part of the fun.

"We like to call it a treasure hunt when you come into our stores," said Leigh Adams, Director of Marketing and Development for Goodwill Industries of Monocacy Valley, which oversees Goodwill stores in Eldersburg, Hampstead and Westminster.

"Our inventory is always changing so each time you come in you will have a new experience. A lot of the time you can find things that still have the original tags on them."

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Most of the stores touted the number of items that are donated unused.

"We have electrical appliances and some still have the tags on them. We even had a new Keurig [coffee maker] come in, still in the box," said Alba Stierhoff, manager of the North East Social Action Program thrift store in Hampstead.

"We just had a donation of bags and bags of new clothing, all of it with the tags still on them,"

said Gasper, of the Spare Room. "All of our clothing for men and women costs $2. Jackets are $5, and children's clothing cost $1, so we are talking about a real bargain."

"[At the Spare Room] you can find things still in the original box and you can feel good about shopping there," said Con Buczkowski, who owns a shop down the street and pops into the thrift store on a regular basis.

"Some things you don't want to go out and pay all that money for and you can buy them in perfectly good condition there for less. Think of how many things go to the landfill."

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Of course, there are plenty of used items that can make someone smile during the holidays, too.

"Toys are a big thing here," said Stierhoff, of NESAP. "We get boxes and boxes of toys. We have one room just for toys with new dolls, trucks, action figures, all kinds of games and puzzles, almost any toy you can think of."

"And we have man who brings in beautifully refurbished bicycles," she said. "He gets parts from all over and when he fixes them up they look like they are brand new."

Name brand glassware, such as Waterford crystal and Lennox, and Longaberger baskets, can also be found at the store.

Thrift stores can also be a good place to shop for the missing piece to your holiday gift.

Adams said shoppers at Goodwill stores often come in to complete a gift or further personalize a gift they'd already planned on giving.

"You can find small items to accompany gifts you already purchased -- baskets to put gifts in, stocking stuffers, decorations and more," she said.

"A lot of our clientele like that they can give more personal gifts, tailor the gift to what someone likes," said Gasper, of the Spare Room. Sometimes things that come in are repurposed into something unique, and a lot of times a story comes along with it."

Michele DiGate, manager of the White Rabbit Gift Shop in Westminster, run by the Carroll Hospital Auxiliary, said she tries to run the store more like a boutique than a thrift shop.

"People are always looking for that unique gift," she said. "We are very fortunate that we get in some beautiful donations, things you don't ordinarily see."

Outside of Christmas gifts, most of the shops have an array of holiday decorations and accessories, as well as clothing perfect for a variety of holiday outings.

"In addition to the gift aspect of it, we have so many Christmas ornaments and decorations," said Goodwill's Adams. "When someone wants to decorate with a new theme they donate all their like-new items. I have decorated my whole house with things from Goodwill."

Goodwill is also a great place to find a humorous Christmas sweater or elegant wear for a holiday event, Adams said, as well as items to help host such get-togethers.

"If you have a lot of company coming you can get your house holiday ready with us," Adams said. "We have folding chairs, extra cookware and dishware, too."

The White Rabbit shop has plenty of accessories for you holiday outfit.

"We have unique jewelry, charm bracelets, pendants and beautiful pins," DiGate said. "We have beautiful hats and gloves and they are coming back with the introduction of tea rooms. You can get a beautiful holiday outfit very inexpensive when you get it here."

Stierhoff said she has completed most of her Christmas shopping in the NESAP store and many customers have done the same.

"Everyone needs a bargain and it all goes to a good cause," she said. Proceeds from items sold in the store help fund NESAP's Assistance Programs, and the store provides items free of charge for those in need.

Finksburg resident, Harlean Liebno said she shops at the NESAP store on a regular basis.

"I go there at least a once a week, sometimes more. Everything is reasonable, the volunteers are wonderful, caring people and the store is well displayed," she said.

Irene Catlin, who manages both the Spare Room and The Thrift Barn for the Westminster Rescue Mission, touted another benefit of shopping their stores.

"We are a nonprofit so we don't charge tax. You are automatically saving 6 percent," she said.

Thrift Shop Information

Goodwill store locations:

Visit online at http://www.gimv.org

1346 Liberty Road, Eldersburg

410-552-5060

721 Hanover Pike, Hampstead

410-374-5907

200 Baltimore Blvd, Westminster

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410-857-9993

NESAP Thrift Store [[North East Social Action Program]

1046 S Carroll St, Hampstead, MD 21074

(410) 239-6216 http://nesapinc.org

The White Rabbit 550 Washington Road, Westminster 410-871-1940 http://www.carrollhospitalcenter.org/white-rabbit-thrift-shop

The Spare Room 28 West Main Street, Westminster 410-848-8648 http://www.westminsterrescuemission.org

The Thrift Barn 658 Lucabaugh Mill Road, Westminster 410-848-2222 http://www.westminsterrescuemission.org

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