In Store: Bargain World

Wonderful World: A stroll through Bargain World reveals an experience to rival that of the most daring gallery.


Photography by Sharon Styer

It is no secret that thrift shops have long been a source of materials, and maybe a little inspiration, for more crafty artists. The fabrics, household items and electronic doodads available at secondhand shops can act as the raw materials that provide form and texture for sculpture, costume and installations. But what about the thrift store as art? Or rather, the thrift store as art gallery.

On first glance, the Bargain World on Pearl Street is anything but artful. The glass doors are well worn, the fluorescent lighting, oppressive. But look closer, past the pair of relaxed clerks working the checkout island, and you can see a raw space filled with the kind of visceral experiences any gallery should be proud to showcase. Here, in the cluttered aisles, one can find startling composition, poignant commentary and unsettling beauty.

I begin my stroll along the north wall and am immediately struck by dueling walls of iridescence: on one side, blouses organized not by brand or price, but by color; on the other, belts arranged in the same prismatic array. I let go the notion of these fabrics as clothing and they become playful to the eye.

Further along the west wall I am confronted with wigs of all colors and textures, eliciting a very different emotion: revulsion, paired with the temptation to plunge my hand into the hairy morass. Resisting,
I move on.

The west wall soon gives way to an electronics graveyard. Sapped of their usefulness, objects here become just that. Shelves upon shelves of cell phone chargers, and faded and dusty stereo components offer a grim, if familiar, commentary on the disposable nature of our culture, while forgotten relics – including a caller-ID box ($2.99) – serve as little more than museum pieces, reminders of a simpler time.

Moving on, past the In Stride exercise bike – which is like the common exercise bike, except without handlebars or a seat – and a pair of sturdy blue and red rocking chairs (only $9.99 each!) comes the piece de resistance: a wall of dolls, stripped of all clothing and packaged in sandwich bags. In isolation, a naked Barbie trapped in a plastic bag is disturbing. When one is confronted with row upon row of such an offense, though, the effect becomes almost unbearably dreary. It is at this moment that the spell is broken. I remind myself that this is a store and that someone will buy these dolls and give them to children, who will smile, hug them and dress them up. I smile myself and leave, nodding to the clerks as I walk out, knowing that one of them is likely the unwitting creator of a minor masterpiece.


Bargain World

4502 N. Pearl St., Tacoma