It’s come to my attention that Charity Shop Tourism was one year old on Tuesday. What about that eh? I’ve enjoyed writing this blog more than any other I’ve attempted, and it provides much less of a whinge factory than most blogs so it’s been good fun compiling it. I’ve explored loads of random places that I’d likely never have been to otherwise; I’ve picked up a ton of bargains; and it’s given me great reasons to get exploring this land that I live in.
So, in that spirit, I’ll be writing a couple of extra posts, today and tomorrow, to celebrate, starting today with the best charity shops I’ve visited in the last year. Tomorrow, I’ll do the best towns I’ve been to in my search – whether for the Charity Shop bit, or the Tourism bit. So, in no particular order, my top ten charity shops 2008-2009.
Sue Ryder Care, Epping (map)
Now that the even larger HEAL store in Epping has closed, Sue Ryder rules the roost in this forest outpost. It’s always a treat to visit, whether to rifle through boxes of random maps, a great selection of books from paperbacks to hardbacks and collectibles, even furniture – The One That Got Away was a leather-topped desk from here, but my office chair was a bargainous tenner from Sue Ryder. Best buy: The History of Western Philosophy, Bertrand Russell (1948): £10.
Oxfam, Pinner (map)
Pinner is the very epitome of suburbia, setting as was for One Foot in the Grave and May To December, and one-time home to Bob Holness, Simon LeBon and Dame Elton John. Nevertheless it’s pretty cute, with some great charity shopping to be had, none more so than in Oxfam. Whereas this daddy of them all is usually overpriced and concerned with it’s fair trade nick nacks more than donated goods, this store is a lovably ramshackle throwback, with books, clothes and assorted tat all jumbled up. Given the area’s literary connections, it’s no surprise to find some really excellent books here, particularly: best buy is probably Disturbing The Peace: Conversations with Vaclav Havel, an unusual and interesting read for £2.
Isabel Hospice, Waltham Cross (map)
Charity shops are about the only thing this desolate little suburban wasteland has going for it, but it scores highly for a couple of excellent hospice shops – the best amongst them is the Isabel Hospice. This is a large shop with staff that will talk your ears off, and it’s one of those lovely places with a basket for everything. Obscure knitting patterns in that basket, buttons in that jar, even a basket of baskets. Best buy from here: beautiful wooden desk, £35.
Oxfam Books & Music, Royal Leamington Spa (map)
This has to be one of the finest charity bookshops around, and it featured in the very first post on Charity Shop Tourism. What grabbed me at the time was a shelf for American authors (I live far away – it’s probably a good thing, otherwise I’d be running low on cash these days), and LPs of Leonard Cohen and UB40.
British Red Cross, Amersham (map)
Home of the permanent half-price sale, this is a tucked-away little store away from either of Amersham’s main drags. For all that, it’s really high quality stuff and sees some really classy donations. The books and records aren’t much to shout about but grab some of the decent looking clothing and look it up afterwards: we’ve bought a £100 wedding hat for £3 and two pairs of Prada mens’ shoes for a fiver each. Best buy has to be those Prada shoes – it’s nice but I don’t have much use personally for a wedding hat.
Garden House Hospice, Hitchin (map)
This vast store, away from the marketplace centre of town, is like a warehouse charity shop – there’s lots of different things here, and lots of each. There’s plenty of furniture available, but it’s best for homeware: cutlery, crockery and the like. Best buy, probably a set of terracotta dishes (excellent for tiny pies), if I recall correctly – 20p each.
Norwood Ravenswood, Golders Green (view)
Golders Green is a hive of excellent charity shops, as long as you don’t roll on Shabbat. Go any other day though and you should definitely check out the Norwood store on the North side of Golders Green Road (there’s another on the opposite side of the road). There’s been many an item that’s tempted me here, from the chelsea boots that I’m still not sure when to wear, to a £45 accordion that nearly tore me up. The boots have to be the best buy, at £9.50.
British Red Cross bookshop, Palmers Green (view)
Palmers Green is an excellent stop for charity shops (if not much else), and the highlight of a visit for me is the Red Cross bookshop at the top of the street. While the ordinary shop next door isn’t all that, the bookshop is really excellent: masses of resources on anything you could want, from childrens books and comics to swathes of Penguin classics and always some beautiful sets of elderly hardbacks – Churchill’s account of WW1, that sort of thing. I’ve bought so many things from here it’s difficult to specify a favourite: perhaps my best buy was Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf, but I can’t remember the price.
Relate, Whitstable (map)
I love a properly higgledy-piggledy charity shop, and this large store in the Kent seaside town is just that. Bits of stuff everywhere – Paul Auster books and some odd CDs if you can find them, but piles and heaps of clothing, toys and one giant caterpillar arrangement. Best buy: the Paul Auster was a good deal, books were less than a pound all.
Helen & Douglas House Hospice, Abingdon (map)
It’s difficult to pick a favourite H&DH shop – they’re all plain lovely (I’ve also seen been impressed in Chesham and Beaconsfield). This one was probably the winner, simply by dint of including a customer-usable coffee machine. I like coffee. I also like the lovely, thoughtful presentation of these shops – attractive shelving, conveniently located produce, all the sorts of things normal shops have to do as standard. Best buy from here, stacks of childrens’ clothes for 50-75p each.
That’s the top ten – please do let me know if you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them. I already have a massive list of places to go, and I’m definitely looking to add to it.