What do you look for in a thrift store?
Your answer is probably gender specific. If you’re a guy, chances are your response is, “Huh?” I have, of course, seen males in second-hand shops, but I have never encountered a guy who got that gleam in his eye as his voice rose in pitch and intensity, enumerating the joys and wisdom of thrift shopping. We men save that for discussions of gas grills with maximum firepower and shiny add-ons, and who should really be on basketball’s Mount Rushmore (hint: for sure, LeBron is there only in his own mind). You know, stuff that matters.
But hey, I can appreciate the beauty of a rose, or the appeal of “Under the Gunn,” without it being my passion, or even my thing. I can tell an ordinary thrift store (countdown to screaming boredom: about three minutes) from an extraordinary one, and by my criteria (an expertise hard-earned from being dragged into hundreds of them), Cherry Picked on Pico is unusual, top flight, and particularly good for males.
Why? Because it’s relatively small, the items are indeed cherry picked, and they have an especially good (if limited) selection of rock ‘n’ roll T-shirts, and mint-condition LPs. And some groovy men’s shirts, slacks, jackets and shoes. And books. And they give their customers free Trader Joe’s breads, and free Starbucks pastries. And a cool reusable bag to carry your treasures home. And then there are the other factors, the people who work there and the philosophy behind it and where the money goes, that really hook Cherry Picked regulars, guys and dolls alike.
The comments they’ve garnered on Yelp are impressive. Out of 39, all were four stars or five except two twos and three threes. One of the twos was so far afield I think the reviewer must have been in another store and got confused and posted her disgruntled comment in the wrong place. People obviously more knowledgeable than I laud the low prices; one guy said he got a great condition $1,600 Brooks Brothers suit for 30 bucks.
I don’t go to Cherry Picked that often, but I usually go on my own; the only other thrift stores you’ll find me in are the ones I got dragged into. My interest lasts way beyond three minutes. First I go to the rack near the desk where the rock ‘n’ roll shirts are. That’s my draw. Then I’ll see what they have in the small LP bin, and I’ll pull a few out of their sleeves to see if they’re still stocking only mint or near-mint condition vinyl, and they are. Turns out, owner/founder Justine Roncone has an expert vinyl guy who looks over each one — plays each one! — to make sure they’re near-perfect. That’s a lot different from most second-hand joints, where it’s not even worth glancing at the albums because you know they’re trashed.
You’ll find that approach throughout the store. There are no intimidating quantities of stuff. It’s well organized; clothing (and dressing rooms!) on the right, household goods on the left, cool stuff at the counter. You can tell at a glance that what you’re looking at is excellent quality and likely without damage. No pawing through piles for that one “find,” or maybe not even one.
If you’re looking for something specific, you’ll know quickly if it’s there or not, and if you don’t find it, Justine keeps a wish list for specific items. Many yelpers commented on how friendly the staff is, and one woman said she told Justine she was looking for longer dresses and the next time she came in Justine showed her several she had put away for her. That’s service.
Is she just an outgoing thrift store junkie indulging her predilections? Partly. But Cherry Picked is the ideal outlet for Justine’s real passion, giving back to the community, especially the less fortunate members. And I love that she came to it through rock ‘n’ roll.
From 2000 to 2008 she worked for Universal Music Group, and before that for Rhino Records, a quirky, respected and mostly loved, mostly reissues label headquartered for some years in Santa Monica. Rhino was that rare company that encouraged its employees to do community work, to the point of giving them paid company time to do it.
Justine wound up researching and compiling Rhino’s list of worthwhile organizations and became a bit of an expert, so when she got tired of hitting her head against the music biz glass ceiling and decided to jump into something she would feel good about, she started Cherry Picked as a nonprofit benefiting four Westside charities. They are currently supporting The Harvest Home (helping homeless pregnant women) and S.A.V.E.S. (a church-based food and clothing provider), and are looking to add three more. “I want ones that are not already covered by celebrity or corporate support,” she said, “but also not startups that may not last.”
No one at Cherry Picked receives pay, she said, and they can always use more volunteers, “with a great customer service attitude, and joy in what we’re doing.”
Reuse and recycle is in full effect at Cherry Picked. The bags, even the price tags are reused, the breads and pastries come through her work with food banks (she does a lot of collecting and distributing herself). Nothing of value goes to waste, is their credo, so they donate anything they can’t use to other charities.
You can make an afternoon of it on that one block of Pico. Start with lunch across the street at Rae’s diner, a local treasure. Walk to the end of the block to the 99 Cent Only Store, then back to Cherry Picked for the good stuff, finally rewarding yourself for all that money you saved by popping in for a cool one at Barkowski (yes, a Bukowski-themed bar). Oh, Santa Monica!
If you go
Cherry Picked Thrift Shop
2807 Pico Blvd.
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 28 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org