Damn! Another reason never to leave Ocean Beach. 2 Dollar Thrill is a tiny little store making a big bang on Newport.
When I first wander in I admit I’m a bit confused. I ask the friendly sales clerk “So, not everything is two dollars, is it?”
“Yes it is.” she answers and adds; “Everything is 2 dollars, that’s all.” I’ll hear her repeat a version of this litany several times to other people while I’m in the store. Why is this question necessary when the store is called 2 Dollar Thrill and there’s signs everywhere saying “Everything Two Dollars?” Because 2 Dollar Thrill is too good to be true.
The store clerk’s name is Delinda and she likes her job. I can understand why, the customers here are happy. They aren’t twisted up inside trying to bargain with their wallet. I mean, who doesn’t have 2 bucks? A man calls from the doorway to Delinda, “Got any sweatpants today?” he asks “ I’m small, maybe a waist size of 30 or something.” He won’t come in. Delinda acts as if nothing is odd about a man shopping from outside the store and begins looking for sweatpants. Delinda can’t find sweatpants for the man today but he thanks her and let’s her know he’ll be by tomorrow. This kind of thing happens all the time at 2 Dollar Thrill.
I want to know how the store does it and where all this stuff comes from. Delinda suggests I talk to Alana, one of the owners. I arrange a meeting with Alana the following week and come in on a Tuesday around noon. The store has about 6 customers, a pregnant woman behind the counter and Alana who takes me back to the “office” stuffed with merchandise. She pushes a pile of clothes aside so I can sit. Alana is blonde, open-faced and pretty–but not in a boring way, She’s wearing snug pinstriped shorts and matching vest and looks too young to have a 7 year old and an ex-husband.
My first questions are “where the heck do you get all this stuff?” and “how can you afford to sell it for less than places like Goodwill and Amvets?” The answer isn’t as straight forward as I expected. All of it comes directly from the mother store, Thrift Trader in North Park (3939 Iowa St. 619-282-7283), and she is one big mama. Thrift Trader is the brain child of Jeff Clark who is also Alana’s boyfriend. Jeff sounds like an interesting guy who lives an upbeat and active life. He once owned Music Trader and sold it in the 90’s for some serious cash, which it sounds like he’s reinvested. He is a musician/singer and has a band, 10 Sugar Coffee . He is a good business man who loves the thrill of the deal as much as any top-notch bargain hunter only he hunts for BIG game. His ability and willingness to buy in bulk allows him to acquire treasures at prices the rest of us can only dream of. Jeff’s passion has filled the mega 27,000 square feet of space in North Park to the brim with merchandise. 10,000 feet consists of Thrift Trader’s retail space which is full of sorted and displayed items. But behind that is the catacombs, described to me as 37 rooms full from bottom to top with Jeff’s investments.
So, it turn out the secret of this little store is Jeff’s gift and love for finding and buying stuff at a great price combined with having a place to stage and store his finds like the huge space in North Park. This combination allows him to pass on the benefits to us. Someone with a tendency to micro manage may not be able to sell stuff at such low prices but luckily for us, and his co-owner/girlfriend Alana, that isn’t a problem for Jeff.
Alana is an artist and had been applying her BA in Social Services to waitressing for 5 years before venturing into the retail business with Jeff. Luckily for us, she’s a resident and the couple spent a lot of time here. Eventually they began seeking the right spot to open a store. Jeff had a second Thrift Trader in Pacific Beach but closed it because, while successful it was too big and the rent was too high to keep it going.
They found just the spot they wanted and the owner, Dr Ben-Moshe liked the idea of the store and was willing to give them a short 6 month lease. Several months later, Jeff and Alana are happy with their space and their landlord and are feeling confident enough to extend the lease for several years.
While Alana fills me in on the background of 2 Dollar Thrill, a parade of people continue to visit, talk to Alana a moment and drift off. It seems this store is so cool, so special, it has its own groupies. Alana tells me that people keep volunteering to help. I’m a bit skeptical but it turns out that the pregnant woman behind the counter is a volunteer as is the Estonian girl organizing books. While I try to digest the idea that people can like a store so much they want to work for free, a regular customer enters. . She’s Cheryl Heaslett and she’s beautiful with a Bettie Page look and a Lauren Bacall style. Everything she has on is from 2 Dollar Thrill. I ask her to model her outfit for me and while I take pictures she tells me her story. She is a mom and a waitress at the Corvette Diner. Being a mom has placed her on a tight budget and forced her give up stylish outfits. “I was still wearing my 2 year old maternity clothes until I found 2 Dollar Thrill.” She tells me, “I love this place, I can’t believe what I have been able to find. And this week I was finally able to give my last bit of pregnancy clothes away. This store gave me back my fashion.”
Cheryl’s isn’t the only life just a little bit better because of 2 Dollar Thrill. There’s one regular customer in a wheelchair whose condition makes it difficult for him to maintain a reasonable appearance. The clothes he can buy at the store help him look good and maintain his dignity.
Being able to buy nice clothes at a price you can afford feels good for everyone and the store attracts a wide variety of people, mostly well dressed men and women between 30 and 50 from what I can tell. Considerable attention has been paid to make it look good and it smells nice too, without the usual stale thrift store smell. According to Alana they had a very fine opening night party complete with DJ. Alana hopes to have more parties and art shows in the tiny space and is considering opening the store up late on occasion for special events. If you are lucky enough to hear about a party at 2 Dollar Thrill, I suspect it would be a lot of fun to attend.
After I let Alana get back to her day, I decide to spend 10 dollars to see what I can get. I tell myself it’s just research but the truth is I love to shop. I get an incredible hat with the initial “B” on the front (my name is Brenda), a leather bag with (I am sorry to say REAL fur on it I think ), a good book to read, a t-shirt my husband wanted from the window display and a pair of attractive leather shoes that happen to also be incredibly comfortable (see picture on left.)
As I write this I think of how 2 Dollar Thrill will make my life just a little better. Today my husband and I had a serious money talk. I’ve been unemployed for some time and his job is on hiatus. Our debt is mounting and we need to radically reduce our expenses. As a start, we’re cancelling our plans to go to Burning Man, terminating our telephone connection and suspending our television service. I could choose to get depressed about all this or I could look on the bright side and be grateful that 2 Dollar Thrill is down the street so when I’m feeling deprived I can pick out something pretty for a mere 2 bucks. Also, because recycling clothing and goods reduces the negative impact on the earth, buying something at 2 Dollar Thrill is supporting a green business.
On my way out I spot a beautiful dolphin painting on the wall. It turns out there is one exception to the “everything is 2 dollars rule”– Alana’s art that decorates the walls costs more.
4871-B Newport Ave. Ocean Beach, CA 92107