For true bargain hunters, discovering a treasure for a fraction of the original cost is the ultimate shopping experience. The treasure hunt itself calls for knowledge and endurance, and is followed by both the thrill of acquiring a precious item and the bragging rights over how little it cost. Heading my list for exhilarating treasure hunts are the Discovery Shops, enterprises of the American Cancer Society.
In the Toluca Lake store, opened in November 1996 by Bob and Dolores Hope, manager Amy Widmer was waiting recently for the delivery of a $5,000 sofa from a regular donor. "We'll price it around $1,500," said Widmer.
New items often find their way into the store, such as the slew of Donna Karan handbags that came in recently (retail $800 to $900) and flew out the door at $75 each.
Judy Kissick of the Woodland Hills location told me of some brand new bathing suits and cover-ups that retail for $45, donated by a major store and tagged at $12 each.
"Many items have the tags still on when we get them," says Kissick.
After an item has been on the racks of any Discovery Shop for two months, it's moved to the sale rack where another 50% is deducted off the marked price. An Escada blouse that was on the sale rack and priced at $22.50 won't be there long.
The large store on Van Nuys Boulevard in Sherman Oaks is always filled with plums. Some hand-carved captain's chairs that originally were $1,600 are marked at $375. One rack is loaded with women's apparel with Armani, Donna Karan and other top labels at one-fourth the original price if used, one-third if new. Ralph Lauren, Dior and Geoffrey Beene sport coats are marked $65 to $95.
Denise Noel, who heads the Discovery Shops operation, outlined some of the rules in California:
"We have a three-hour rule in all our stores, meaning the volunteers cannot buy anything unless it's been on the floor for three hours," she said.
Also, a minimum of 100 pieces of merchandise must be added to each store's inventory every day (a practice that keeps regulars stopping in daily to see what's new), but in the Northridge store that figure usually runs around 300 items per day. The Honda motorcycle in the window for $450 (retail $1,000) gives you an idea of the extent of the donations. Manager Jill Angel told me of the accumulation of the vintage wedding gowns that they are now selling for $45 to $250. A Hugo Boss blazer at $65 (retail $450) will make some man very happy. The managers of each store are paid employees, but all other help is volunteer, many of them seniors up to age 86. After the basic expenses, all moneys go directly to the American Cancer Society.
Donations are tax deductible, of course. It's not just the wonderful deals you can find in these shops that make them such an exhilarating shopping experience--the volunteers seem to work from their hearts, and that is reflected in the general ambience.
Discovery Shops: Valley: Northridge, 9719 Reseda Blvd., (818) 772-0194; Sherman Oaks, 4454 Van Nuys Blvd., (818) 905-9141; Toluca Lake, 10124 Riverside Drive, (818) 754-8185; and Woodland Hills, 21799 Ventura Blvd., (818) 888-3183. Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Ventura County: 385 Arneill Road, Camarillo, (805) 384-1533.
Santa Clarita: 26572 Bouquet Canyon Road, Saugus, (805) 297-0770.
Other locations in Belmont Shore, Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Los Angeles and Manhattan Beach.
Weekend Supersale: Those wonderful Jill Kirsh color-coordinated makeup kits with eyeliner, lip pencil, two lipsticks, gloss, mascara, eight eye shadows and four blushes come in four color groups based on hair color. These usually sell for $59.95, but four Target stores are presenting them at $29.95 each for a short period of time . . . plus you get three natural-hair brushes and a swatch kit. Available at Target stores in Pasadena, North Hollywood, Culver City and Long Beach.