Treasure-hunting for the budget-conscious: Thrifting in Sarasota

all photos Martin Steele/Catalyst

Whether it’s done in the name of hipster style or a tight budget, thrifting is treasure-hunting for the budget-conscious, and as such is a staple of the average college life. Conveniently, many small-scale thrift stores are also non-profit, taking in their inventory by donation and donating the proceeds from sales to one or more good community causes, which fits in nicely with another college staple, community activism.

For most thrifty Novocollegians, the Goodwill down Tamiami Trail is an all-purpose one-stop shop for thrifting needs, offering low prices, a good cause, and a location within walking or busing distance from campus. For those interested in an alternative, however, or perhaps simply a wider range of stores to visit, what else does Sarasota have to offer in the way of positive, convenient thrifting experiences?

To find an answer, the Catalyst set out on a thrifting expedition in the downtown area, intending to pinpoint the local low-budget hot spots. The stores that made the list were selected primarily for their convenient locations — all three are within a minute-long walk from the 1st and Lemon bus station — as well as their non-profit nature. The Catalyst would be hard-pressed to say that any of the following stores stand out as the absolute best, especially given the distinct causes they each support — each location offers its own take on the thrifting experience, subject to the preferences of the shopper.


Episcopal Thrift House

1503 2nd Street, (941) 365-1519

Mon-Fri: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.; Sat: 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.; closed Sunday. Cash only.

Positioned directly across the street from the bus station, the Episcopal Thrift House was our first stop. The store is, admittedly, rather small (a real estate agent might say “cozy”), but the volunteers aim to make up for it with earnest spirit. “We’ve been doing this for 50 years,” manager Wendy Fitzgerald said. Our visit was on Monday, Apr. 9, which Fitzgerald said was unfortunately just a day early for the 103rd birthday of one of their volunteers, a Dominican woman who maintained her youth as a former tennis champ.

Of the three stores visited, in terms of causes, the Thrift House seemed to offer the broadest variety, donating their proceeds to no fewer than 16 charities and community organizations, including the All Faiths Food Bank, Children First and Learn to Fish — a charity that helps women released from prison “get back on their feet,” according to Fitzgerald — to name a few. Despite the name and affiliation of the store, Fitzgerald noted that “most of [the] beneficiaries are not religious.”

Treasure: The Thrift House has a little bit of everything, and it offers most of it at some of the lowest prices one can find in the immediate area. In our experiences, the volunteers have always been extremely friendly. Cause-wise, there’s sure to be something to please everyone on their lengthy list of beneficiaries.

Trash: Compared to Goodwill, the selection is quite small, given the size of the store. The cash restriction and limited weekend hours are a bit inconvenient.

Evaluation: Satisfactory


Mustard Seed Thrift Shop (Sarasota Council of Concern)

1442 Fruitville Road, (941) 365-5999

Mon-Fri: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.; Sat: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.; closed Sunday. Cash or check only.

The Mustard Seed Thrift Shop, named for a Bible verse (Matthew 17:20: “If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed … nothing shall be impossible to you”), raises funds for the Sarasota Council of Concern. According to an informational pamphlet on this non-profit group, the Council aims to “help fill unmet needs of Sarasota County, particularly the needs of the children.” One of the major outlets for this is the “Second Grade Swimmers” program, which offers swimming lessons normally unavailable to local grade-school children to combat the “leading cause of accidental death of Florida’s children under the age of 14,” drowning.

Those interested in contributing more directly to the Council’s cause can volunteer as well as shop at Mustard Seed, among other things. “We always need volunteers,” manager Shirley Ludke said. Potential workers can sign up for “one four-hour shift per week,” so as not to sacrifice too much of their preexisting school and/or work schedules.

Treasure: Mustard Seed boasts a somewhat larger selection of goods than the Episcopal Thrift House (and comparable prices), and the cause they support has both merit and focus.

Trash: Relatively speaking, not a whole lot of furniture seemed to be on display, if that’s what you’re looking for. Again, the weekend hours and restriction against credit cards are a tad annoying.

Evaluation: Satisfactory


SPARCC Treasure Chest

1426 Fruitville Road, (941) 953-7800

Mon – Sat: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Most major credit cards accepted.

The Safe Place and Rape Crisis Center (SPARCC) runs the SPARCC Treasure Chest, which was the last and biggest stop on our expedition. While all three of the stores visited had a variety of products, a la Goodwill, the Treasure Chest was the only one that could perhaps rival Goodwill in terms of size and stock. Considering this, prices were a bit steeper here than they were at the other two locations, though it is worth noting that some of the goods saw a marked increase in quality, as well.

According to store manager Patti Falvey, the goal of SPARCC is to “help battered women and men” in times of crisis, particularly by providing a safe shelter. The organization also supplies its beneficiaries with basic necessities and household goods, which the Treasure Chest helps out with considerably. “We supply whatever they need,” Falvey said.

Treasure: Most of the goods are quite high in quality (as far as second-hand merchandise goes), and the selection is the largest available out of the stores visited. Acceptance of credit cards is a major plus. Lots of furniture and knick-knacks in particular.

Trash: The prices, though still within thrift store range, seemed a bit steep for some of the items on sale. Though the overall selection was impressive, the Episcopal Thrift House and Mustard Seed did seem to have more in the way of books, toys/games, movies and the like.

Evaluation: Strong Sat


Closing Thoughts:  For budget-conscious Novocollegians looking to perhaps find hidden treasure while supporting a good cause, any of the three options listed above would be a solid destination for a thrifting adventure. If we had to nominate a single winner, it does seem hard to argue with the edge the SPARCC Treasure Chest has in the size department — that said, the Episcopal Thrift House and Mustard Seed Thrift Shop do have their own unique appeals, as well. In this case, the Catalyst is inclined to say that the best bet for thrifters is to visit all three stores on a thrilling (and thrifty) expedition of their own for variety’s sake.

Leave a Reply