Heaven for bargain hunters can be found in the cluttered interiors of a consignment shop.
For those lost souls who have yet to discover these gardens of Eden for the thrifty, imagine a garage sale that never ends, a flea market where anybody can put his unwanted possessions up for sale.
Better than thrift stores because they're more selective about their merchandise, cheaper than antique stores, consignment shops have popped up all over Orange County.
Just about anything can be had at these secondhand shops: antiques, furniture, china, chandeliers, crystal, paintings, kitchen utensils and myriad knickknacks. One shop even carries used sporting equipment.
Shop owners describe the consignment business as a win-win situation.
"It's not harmful," says Becky Factor, spokeswoman for Leisure World Consignments Inc. in Laguna Hills. "The people disposing of things are happy, and the people buying them are happy."
Those with castoffs can sell them through the shop, saving themselves the hassle of holding a garage sale of their own or advertising the item and inviting strangers into their homes.
The stores typically keep merchandise for 60 to 90 days and receive 30% to 50% of the sales price. If grandma's rocking chair doesn't sell, the owners can retrieve it or in some cases agree to have it donated in their name to a charity.
A smart buyer can end up the biggest winner of all.
Jackie Haworth, owner of On Consignment in Laguna Beach, had one customer buy a painting at her shop for $50, then turn around and sell it at auction for $20,000.
Just visiting the shops can be a pleasure, much like digging through an old attic.
A sample of Orange County's consignment shops:
Newport Harbor Art Museum's Consignment Shop, 333 E. 17th St., No. 19, Costa Mesa, (714) 645-6426. Esther Quick loves coming to work in the morning, and who can blame her? As volunteer manager for the Newport Harbor Art Museum's Consignment Shop, she's constantly surrounded by the most amazing treasures.
Fine china, silver and crystal are the shop's specialty.
On a recent expedition, one could find a Lenox china set for 12, each piece wreathed in 22-karat gold, for $900, or a 122-piece set of Gorham sterling silverware for $1,500--both bargains by today's prices.
The shop is filled with rare finds: A 19th-Century copper brazier, used to cook food while warming a room ($585); an antique wedding kimono adorned with gold embroidery ($350); a 1904 music box that plays "My Old Kentucky Home" ($800); a 17th-Century English Bible box ($1,100) and a 17th-Century black walnut chest from the Hearst estate ($1,700).
The shop's inventory changes daily, so Quick--and the customers--are never bored. Recently the shop volunteers had to sort and catalogue 174 items from a single estate. The shop's proceeds go to support the museum.
The Sporting Outlet, 31654 Rancho Viejo Road, Suite A, San Juan Capistrano, (714) 248-5175. Kay Verity's consignment shop is filled with good intentions--exercise bikes, rowing machines, weights and assorted used sporting goods which their previous owners allowed to gather dust.
"Usually when they get tired of (a machine), it's still in excellent condition," Verity says.
She opened the store Feb. 1, and since then she's acquired all kinds of sporting goods--pinball machines, skis, bowling balls, tennis rackets, fishing tackle, skates, weights, wet suits and even a double-sailed sailboard.
Recycling sporting goods makes sense on several scores: Sellers can make money on equipment they've outgrown or neglected, buyers can try their hands at a new sport without spending a lot of money.
The sporting goods sell for no more than half of their retail price. On a recent visit, Verity had bicycles for $50, ski boots (one pair never worn) for $48, skis for $32 and poles for $25.
She won't sell equipment that's damaged, rusty or broken.
"I don't want this to look like a garage sale," she says. So many of the rowing machines and exercise bikes look new that her shop looks more like a gym.
Leisure World Consignments, Inc., 23595 G Moulton Parkway, Laguna Hills, (714) 770-7626. Visiting Leisure World Consignments is like going to your grandmother's house and peeking in her old trunks and drawers.
There's fine china and crystal, paintings, antique furniture, silver tea sets, gilt mirrors and assorted bric-a-brac--virtually anything you would find in a real home.
Many antiques found here come from estates in Leisure World. Often, the shop purchases entire households.
Visitors must study every nook and cranny for hidden treasure. Curios cabinets and china hutches are loaded with porcelain figurines, silver, Depression glass, vases, crystal and candleholders.
The back room is a favorite haunt for bargain hunters. There, the less expensive odds and ends are stacked up high--silver plate pitchers, rugs, musty books, tea cups, vases, statuettes and even porcelain poodles. Plan to spend a couple of hours working your way through the shop.