'We're all treasure hunters'

Brand Spankin' Used thrift store offers variety of finds

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A light wool jacket that's an "incredible shade of green" with embroidered lapels is one of Janine Pierce's favorite pieces of clothing.

It sets off Pierce's long, blonde hair and light eyes, but she likes it so much because of its history.

It was a medicine woman's jacket, and Pierce says she loves to daydream about where the jacket has been and what the person wearing it did.

"I'll put that piece on and feel the powers," she says, sitting in her shop in downtown Oak Creek. "To think back on all the things that jacket knows."

Pierce, who owns the Brand Spankin' Used thrift store on Oak Creek's Main Street, said being able to wear clothes with a history is just one reason for shopping at thrift stores.

Another reason is the chance to find a good deal -- something that interests people from "all walks of life," she said.

"It's old, it's young, it's wealthy, it's not wealthy," Pierce said about the people who come to her store. "You know, I think we're all treasure hunters. We all want to get a good deal. If you can find a treasure and it's a good deal, you've got it all."

Pierce's shop is full of good deals. She takes hours to sift through bags of clothes, jewelry, shoes, accessories, kitchenware, furniture, household items, lamps, construction goods, books and music. Any donations that she cannot use, she passes along to other organizations, such as LIFT-UP.

Although the sifting can take time, Pierce says it always feels like Christmas Day.

"You just have no idea what you're going to find and it's just a big treasure hunt," she said.

And, it's part of the thrift-store cycle.

Without thrift stores, perfectly good items end up cluttering landfills, Pierce said. But with thrift stores, people have a chance to put things they no longer need to a good use, and to find things they do need at a good price.

The store in Oak Creek, which has been open almost a year, fills a much-needed niche, Pierce said. Residents have been enthusiastic and supportive. Although Pierce never did a market study to learn whether a thrift store would succeed in the town, she said she's finding that her gut instinct has been right.

People come in all the time to find new outfits, last-minute birthday presents and just about anything else, she said. They also give greatly, bringing Pierce top-quality items to sell.

Pierce said she tries to give back whenever she can. She takes requests from people and searches through thrift stores in Denver for hard-to-find items. She gives children reduced prices so they can buy things they want. And sometimes, she gives things away.

"If I see a kid standing out at a bus stop without a coat on, I'm likely to show up there the next day with a coat," she said.

Pierce has been a thrift-shopper for long time. She remembers talking with a friend who would spend $500 on 10 items at the mall, and wondered how Pierce could find five carloads of clothes and accessories for $500.

"She just couldn't understand," Pierce said. "She'd be like, 'You got all of this? All of this?'"

Thrift-shopping not only saves money, but it's fun. Avid thrift shoppers know they have to stop by stores every week to find the treasures, she said.

"It became an obsession," she said, remembering when she first began to shop at thrift stores. "Because if there wasn't anything there that day, you better go the next day because there will be something there."

Opening the thrift store also gave Pierce more time to build and refinish furniture, one of her passions.

Working with her hands and seeing pieces come together is something she said she enjoys, and that gives her the chance to express her artistic talent, which she honed while getting a degree at the Colorado Institute of Art when she was younger.

Pierce handcrafts jewelry, pottery and furniture. The wooden pieces always have a western theme, with black-silhouetted cowboys, horses, fences and boots. She uses leather, horseshoes and silver to accent the wood.

Through rebuilding pieces, she said she's able "to take something that's still got some life in it and turn it into a really unusual piece that somebody really enjoys and can use."

As Oak Creek grows, Pierce said she hopes her thrift store grows, as well. But whatever happens, the store will remain where it is.

"I like my life here. I like my small town here," she said.

"I know everybody here by name and now I know their shoe sizes and their shirt sizes."

Brand Spankin' Used is open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, but its hours will expand soon. Call Pierce at 736-8100. Donations are accepted.

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