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Secondhand America: St. Mary’s-By-The-Sea

America's wealth of secondhand stores is not exactly a secret, but it it can be pretty intimidating in its vastness. Follow our writer as she tip-toes through junk, browses the shelves of antique malls and bargains with vintage brokers, reporting back on just what makes our resale shops so damn good.

You know when you walk into a small, church-run thrift shop and just know you’ve struck gold? While not exactly handpicked, everything just feels like it really belongs—like every donation just happens to perfectly fit together like puzzle pieces that comprise a picture of endless awesome finds.

That’s what it’s like at St. Mary’s-By-The-Sea, a teeny tiny thrift shop in Monterey, California’s neighbor city Pacific Grove. While you can’t beat the view (“by-the-sea” is no misnomer), you also can’t beat the stock, including an entire shelved room dedicated to upscale home décor (lovely china under $10, marble-based candlesticks, an amazing see-through geometric container for $8). There’s another room for clothes, filled with frilly white blouses, colorful jackets and other wardrobe fixings (such as fabric-inlay belts and vintage pins).

Things aren’t particularly thrift-store cheap here, but for what you forfeit in rock bottom pricing, you gain in total quality. It’s clear the volunteers here really care (and might just be hanging around chatting with—or about—the town’s most fashionable donators). And the benefactors are cool with giving away their best goods, including a gold hanging-acorn necklace, which just so happens to be vintage YSL. The price? $10.

While the hours are kind of confusing (the shop’s open Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, for just three hours each day) and it’s cash-only, it’s worth the extra planning. When you’re done at St. Mary’s-By-The-Sea, head around the corner and up the street to the AFRP Treasure Shop, which holds a trove of goodies—including an entire section basically devoted to kimonos—and a surprising stock of major label items including Calvin Klein and Stubbs & Wootton.

Freelance writer Alison Baitz (who has also written for Bust and Refinery29 among others) is so excited that she got to visit thrift stores and antique malls as part of her job.

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