The 96 Cent Thrift Shop

The 96 Cent Thrift Shop
Jeanie Fritzsche

Attached is my submission for Round 1 of the 2017 NYC Midnight Flash Fiction contest. My criteria was: Comedy/Thrift Store/Vacuum Cleaner

Bigger isn’t necessarily better if you’re a thrift store with a heart.

I work at the 96 Cent Thrift Shop. It’s similar to the 99 Cent Store, but not as upscale. We were the only “thrift” store on the block until the 99 Cent Store opened across the street last month, just two doors down. The 99 Cent Store sells cheap new stuff while we, the 96 Cent Thrift Shop, sell old stuff cheaply, and that is a significant difference.

We in the 96 Cent Thrift Shop were very unhappy when the 99 Cent Store opened, of course, because both the poor and the cheap people, like Mrs. Rubens, who is poor, and Mr. Landers, who is simply cheap, like to come and shop in our store. We don’t want to lose them to another store.

So one day I decided to spend my lunch hour walking across the street and down the block to get a look at the 99 Cent Store, with its big purple and yellow sign and its automatic doors. Our sign is just black plastic letters on a white background and ever since the “e” in “Cent” fell off, it has made us the butt of quite a few bad jokes, but Sister Lucinda, who is the supervisor of our store, hasn’t been able to find another “e” to replace it and tells us to just ignore the bad jokes. We try.

So I went to the 99 Cent Store and I stepped on the mat that makes the door open automatically, and I walked into the store, the doors swinging wide before me. I was hit immediately with a blast of cold air because, of course, the 99 Cent Store has air conditioning, not a large rotating fan that is missing one blade, and which Sister Lucinda has to climb on a ladder and pull a metal chain to get going and that, frankly, hardly cools the store down at all, but at least it’s something.

Once inside the 99 Cent Store, I was overwhelmed by all the things they have to sell—not that we don’t have plenty of things to sell in the 96 Cent Thrift Shop, but they aren’t the same kind of things. For example, in the 99 Cent Store they sell sixteen-ounce plastic cups in many bright and beautiful colors. You can buy a set of six turquoise cups, or you can buy a multi-colored set of turquoise, tangerine, magenta, saffron, cardinal and emerald cups to mix-and-match. Cheap plastic, but great colors.

It’s very difficult to match things at the 96 Cent Thrift Shop because almost nothing comes to us in a complete set, let alone mix-and-match. I’m not disparaging the housewares at the 96 Cent Thrift Shop and, I’m sure, if you went there you would find bargains that would make you very happy, but they would not be pleasantly interchangeable is all.

The 99 Cent Store is really, really big, so big you could probably fit three of the 96 Cent Thrift Shop into it, and you can walk up and down aisles looking at stuff until you have a headache, which is okay because on Aisle 8 are health aids, including three brands of aspirin. But even though I could see there are many people who like to shop there, what there isn’t are many people who work there, because the line from the only cashier, who seemed to be the only employee at all, went from the cash register down past the wax candy soda bottles, past the helium balloons that said “Congrats Grad”, past the postcard rack with pictures of jackalopes, all the way to the Calming Zen Adult Coloring Books. That’s pretty far. We rarely have lines at the 96 Cent Thrift Shop.

By the time I was finished with my visit to the 99 Cent Store where the mix-and-match tableware was only the beginning (because large “Happy Birthday!” banners, bins of colored pencils and six-packs of crayons, and plastic jewelry are only a few of the things that we definitely could never compete against), I have to admit I felt very down-hearted. I sort of dragged my way back to my own store, opening the regular door knob, noticing that the “Open” sign had not been turned over that day so, strictly speaking, we were “Closed,” and feeling like maybe I should start thinking about finding another job, even though Sister Lucinda is very, very loving and people who come to volunteer from the Mission Rescue are not only nice but are getting their lives together and need good role models (and I have to admit I am one of the better role models because I am both clean and honest).

I turned over the “Closed” sign so people on the street, in case they wanted to come in and buy something—and I would be the first to say that we have excellent supplies of not only used paperback books and milkglass vases but, also, a large array of lamps and vacuum cleaners, some of which (especially the Eurekas and the Dysons) tend to hold up well over time—would know we were open and they could come in. Then I found a small whiteboard with only the faintest ghosting left on it and a red Expo Erasable Marker that hadn’t dried out and wrote “WELCOME!” in large letters and set it inside our showcase window so that if they knew we were open and they wanted to come inside, they would know they would be welcome here because, even if we don’t have multi-colored tableware or fabric-backed patio placemats that match the tableware, or ceramic brides and grooms to put on top of a cake (although we do have two mismatched grooms, should the need arise), we have Sister Lucinda, and Mr. Dobbs and Sally Lou from the Mission Rescue, and Bork, the tortoiseshell cat who adopted us last winter and sleeps on a pillow in the eveningwear section because he likes the netting.

And me.