In the East Bay, thrifting isn't just for college students and other people who can't afford to shop at “normal” stores. You'll find almost anyone in thrift stores, from business owners to restaurateurs to soccer moms. For the savvy thrift shopper, our local thrift stores offer a bounty of stunning items at a fraction of the price.
Brand new designer clothes with the original tags, quirky vintage pieces that suit your personal style, quality antique furniture, and original paintings by well-known artists all show up frequently; you just need to learn how to spot them. Thrift stores often change their hours, so call ahead to make sure a store is open. This list goes roughly from north to south. The pictures included are representative of what you might find and don't necessarily show these precise stores.
San Pablo Flea Market
Where: 6100 San Pablo Ave.
What You'll Find: Despite its name, this really is a thrift store, not a flea market. Much of its merchandise is outside in a fenced yard area. As a result, this isn't the best place to shop for furniture – much of which ends up ruined in the rain. The inside is disorganized and cluttered, but there are often treasures. Prices are typically low, and you can often haggle to get them lower. It's perfect for the person who doesn't mind digging through a pile of junk to find a gem. If you're here, take a little extra time to visit Emeryville's Goodwill location, which is just a few blocks north on San Pablo Ave.
Alta Bates Showcase
Where: 5615 College Ave.
What You'll Find: This isn't the kind of thrift store where you find amazing deals. Instead, it's the kind where you find amazing pieces at fair to high prices. It's located in the classy Rockridge neighborhood, which gives some indication of the prices and quality you can expect. The fact that the proceeds go to Alta Bates Hospital takes some of the sting out of the high prices. If you have more money than time, this store saves you the hassle of sifting through junk.
Where: 5290 College Ave.
What You'll Find: This relatively small thrift shop is just a few blocks from the Alta Bates Showcase. Bambino Thrift Shop supports the Children's Hospital & Research Center Oakland. The offerings include plenty of toys and children's clothing along with jewelry, linens, art, furniture, and clothing for adults. It's particularly important to call ahead at this location; hours are quite limited.
Clausen House Thrift Shop
Where: 4834 Telegraph Ave.
What You'll Find: Don't miss the Clausen House Thrift Shop. The wide selection here includes clothing, purses, jewelry, dishes, and plenty of art. Prices are often unfathomable; some things are expensive for no apparent reason, while others are priced shockingly low even for a thrift store. For the most part, though, the prices are reasonable. Make sure you visit both parts of the thrift store, located beside each other with separate entrances. The one to the north is your typical thrift store, while the one to the south features higher quality items (often on consignment) with prices to match.
American Cancer Society Discovery Shop
Where: 127 41st St.
What You'll Find: Relatively high prices and a fairly small selection puts this shop in the same category as the Alta Bates Showcase and the Bambino Thrift Shop. You are quite likely to find beautiful items here, but you will pay for the privilege of not needing to sort through racks or shelves of junk.
Where: 1220 Broadway
What You'll Find: This is your typical urban Goodwill. It offers mostly clothes, with a few pieces of jewelry at the front counter and a few shelves of housewares and bric-a-brac in the back. Prices tend to be reasonable, but the inventory is typically underwhelming. On the bright side, getting here is easy: the 12th St./Oakland City Center BART Station is right outside.
Where: 601 Webster St.
What You'll Find: This Salvation Army is the place to go for inexpensive, high-quality furniture. There always seems to be some sale going on, meaning you can expect 20-50% off some particular category of items. The higher-priced boutique section, located in a separate room, houses items that the staff members believe to be special or valuable. Don't worry; there are plenty of gems to be found in the main part of the store.
Where: 2925 International Blvd.
What You'll Find: Not only is this Goodwill location in infamous East Oakland – it's also on the even more infamous International Boulevard. This means two things: it's not particularly picked over, and it isn't for the faint of heart. This is the kind of place where you definitely don't want to leave any valuables visible in your car while you shop. If you make it in, though, you'll often be rewarded with stunning finds at astonishingly low prices.
Gateway Thrift Store
Where: 10500 International Blvd.
What You'll Find: Another International Boulevard thrift store location, the Gateway Thrift Store is in a neighborhood that is questionable at best. Once you get inside, though, the discomfort of getting there usually ends up being worth it. With a separate room for dishes, this place is perfect if you're looking for vintage glasses, plates, teacups, or serving platters. The racks and racks of clothes typically hold some great pieces, and the display cases often contain nice collectibles at reasonable prices.
Where: 16160 East 14th St.
What You'll Find: This thrift store isn't quite in Oakland, but it deserves a place on the list. It's huge, with fair to low prices, and one color tag goes on sale for 50% off every week. This store offers almost everything imaginable, from tools and furniture to art, clothes, and housewares. There are two Goodwill locations nearby in San Leandro, at 14410 Washington Ave # 110 (510-614-9658) and 14750 East 14th St. (510-352-6966).