I like old stuff, discarded, still smelling of its earlier, other life.

As a kid, my idea of a good time was roaming around scrap yards and mooching through neighbourhoods where the bi-annual inorganic rubbish collection was on. Once, as a treat, my mum took me through Broadcasting House in Auckland the night before it was demolished. I came away with a record box and an umbrella stand. 

Moving to Hastings, White’s Traders was my Mecca. A cob-webbed, dusty, rusty wonderland. It’s mothballed now. On their last day of trading my friend bought all their signage for a few hundred dollars. The last thing they handed over, in an old nail box, was the category signs. They now hang in the Common Room: ‘POTS’, ‘PANS’, ‘PLATES’.

Even without White’s, Hastings is a well-spring of fine flotsam. I traipse through my city looking for one more Temuka bowl to match my collection. I fondle fondue sets and salivate over SylvaC. I dream of finding the original teasmaid, the orange vinyl kitchen stool, the turquoise cake tin with the white Persian on its lid: Op Shop Bingo. 

By taking a carefully mapped path from the West 300s to the East 300s, it’s possible to amble through at least ten op shops, each with its own flavour. 

In the Far East is Saint Vincent De Paul. Vinnie is the patron saint of charitable works and much of this treasure trove has a religious bent. If you need a St Chris medal for a going-away gift or a gold flecked icon for that nook in the kitchenette, then this is your place. 

Around the corner is one of two Sallie Army shops bookending the city (the other is at the West End near Rush Munro). This place is small, which means it’s a not too overwhelming ‘beginners’ op-shop. Here you’ll find that wot-not you didn’t know you needed and one of those nutriovens we were all supposed to migrate to about ten years ago. 

From there the Orphan Aid shop by the clock tower is crammed with clothes and toys. My kid told me not to shop there because it’s only for orphans, but really anyone with a coin purse is welcome; give generously (it’s for the children). From here, the Cranford Shop is a short walk and really the crème de la crème of op-shopping. It’s unmatchable on quality, but it can be steep – I once paid a whopping $8 for an orange and white tin biscuit caddy with a Quant daisy motif. But really, when we’re talking a few dollars, nothing’s ‘pricey’ in the grand scheme of things.

Up on the West Side, SPCA shop is a double-fronted glory box tastefully laid out and well curated. This is top-notch junk; a treat to browse in. Decisions on what goes where next to what hint at an artistic eye and it often feels a shame to break up a suite of citrus-tinged trophies so beautifully set together (but that scalloped-edge Tupperware cannister is calling!) 

Continuing the pet trope, For the Love of Animals is a little further on. Small, but with hidey-holes, it’s a lovely entrée to the big gun over the road: Restore. This is the motherlode, a curiosity shop of upcycle, reuse, new life wonders. The front window is dedicated to ‘retro’ and ‘vintage’, two key terms that attempt to differentiate tat from treasure. The main room is filled with the detritus of domesticity. Out the back is a megaload of what’s ‘out the back’ at most people’s places: tools, electrics and furniture that ‘has potential’.

Fiona Hislop at the SPCA shop.

By the time you’ve traversed the town you’ve helped the poor, the orphans, the animals, the homeless, the dying, and you’ve picked up a George Forman grill, a Kinks LP, and a vintage Crown Lynn butter dish. It’s a win-win-win.

There’s a serious point here too. There is too much stuff in the world. We are too quick to replace old with new. But op-shops furnish the gewgaws we search for in Spotlight … at a fraction of the cost. Or the doings for fancy-dress costumes. Or trinkets that make terrific gifts for children. Thousands of perfectly good cups, often in sets of six (more often, five). Silver, bone-handled cutlery. Wooden toys. Picture frames. Cotton fitted-sheets and Irish linen table cloths. Goblets, tumblers, flutes.

As city centres like ours push against big-box retail encroaching on their boundaries, we need to embrace all the little ways we can shop without them. And when one of those is buying from an op-shop we’re also putting our money into the hands of real people who do neat stuff with it. Retail therapy, as I see it.

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