My neighborhood thrift shop usually beats an autogenerated playlist for discovery

[Lifelong AIDS Alliance Thrift Store]

Every last weekend in June, the main thoroughfare in my neighborhood closes down for a street festival celebrating gay pride. I usually spend about 10 minutes walking up and down the street to watch people, but I seldom stop at a booth.

That ended in 2016 when the newly-relocated Lifelong AIDS Alliance Thrift Shop set out a bunch of used CDs and vinyl for sale at $0.10 each. Of course, I had to stop and browse. I ended up with Juice Newton, Kim Carnes and Glenn Gould on vinyl, and Ryuichi Sakamoto, k.d. lang and This Mortal Coil on CD.

I had to go into the store to pay with a card, and that’s when I discovered the store’s basement. From street level, all I saw were vintage clothes. I didn’t know about the home furnishings and media down below.

Since that encounter, roughly 130 new titles in my collection come from the Lifelong Thrift Store. I visit the store twice a week, and it’s rare when I don’t leave with a disc or two. It’s tough to beat the $1 price point, but discount days netted me some real bargains. New York Dolls for $0.10? Pink Floyd’s The Wall for $0.75? Sure, OK.

I’ve also started visiting the Goodwill in my neighborhood, but that store’s stock isn’t as extensive as Lifelong’s. The Friends of the Seattle Public Library Annual Big Book Sale is another source of discounted discs.

All these thrift store visits have resulted in some nice discoveries: Thought for Food by the Books, Pinkerton by Weezer, Strange Kind of Love by Love and Money. I also reconnected with some albums I had let go.

Of course, many of the bargains I’m plundering could be heard through my Google Play Music subscription. How have visits to the thrift store introduced me to more new artists than automated suggestions based on my listening habits?

Simply put, recommendation engines can’t account for the research I’ve already done on my own. Yes, I know that fans of Perfume may also like Utada Hikaru and ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION. I probably fed the engine with the data to make that conclusion.

The engines also don’t seem to encourage much serendipity. I listen to Ty Herndon and Jason Isbell. The autogenerated recommendations would probably suggest something along the lines of either artist, but rarely anything that would intersect both. And if I listen to both Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams, does it really need to bother offering Patty Griffin?

The shelves of thrift store are organized by alphabet and little else. The new arrival cart isn’t organized at all. You have to put in the work to scan each shelf for something interesting, and an encounter with one name can send me on a hunt for something else.

On one visit, I ran across the first two albums by the Streets. I’ve always been curious about Mike Skinner, and for a $1 each, it was a low-risk investment. Not a few weeks later, I found Boy in Da Corner by Dizzee Rascal, which I wouldn’t have thought to pick up had it not been for the Streets.

Thrift shops are usually dumping grounds for stock unwanted by record stores, as previously placed price tags on the discs can attest. And yes, it’s a lot of work sifting through piles of unwanted Ani DiFranco albums to find a copy of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew with few surface scratches.

But it’s the random encounter with something interesting — for example, a stage work by Harry Partch — that makes the effort worthwhile. It’s also nice to know that the $1 spent on a new favorite album goes to a charity that I support.

Photo credit: Lifelong AIDS Alliance Facebook page

Favorite Edition Lifelong Thrift Store

Here are a few titles to which I wouldn’t have listened without the Lifelong Thrift Store.

  • The Books, Thought for Food
  • En Vogue, Funky Divas
  • Everlast, Whitey Ford Sings the Blues
  • The Godfathers, Birth, School, Work, Death
  • Guadalcanal Diary, Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man
  • The Housemartins, London 0, Hull 4
  • Idlewild, Hope Is Important
  • New York Dolls, New York Dolls
  • Juice Newton, Juice
  • Son Volt, Trace
  • The Roots, Game Theory
  • The Streets, Original Pirate Material
  • The Streets, A Grand Don’t Come for Free
  • Toto, Toto IV
  • Weezer, Pinkerton