‘All Thrifty States’: A Peek Into Thrift Stores Across New England, US

New England thrift stores are full of Red Sox gear, of course.
New England thrift stores are full of Red Sox gear, of course.
Jenna Isaacson Pfueller

What are you throwing away, New England?

Photographer Jenna Isaacson Pfueller knows. And she’s photographed it.

She’s visited our thrift stores and documented her findings for a project called All Thrifty States.

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She’s pointed her camera at our baubles and beads, t-shirts and tchotchkes, lamps and lobster traps (guess where that was?) in 120 thrift stores across 48 states — including New England.

In 2009, Pfueller and her husband both lost their newspaper jobs during the recession. For two years the photojournalist worked odd jobs to pay the bills and shopped in thrift stores, something she had always done anyway. But she noticed something — the cars in the parking lot of the thrift stores were much nicer. The photographer brought her camera and starting shooting.

And then she had an idea.

“I said, ‘Man, there’s really a story here, and I need to find a way to do it,” Pfueller, 36, told Boston.com.

Hershel, a regular at New and Nearly New Thrift Shop in Stratford, Conn., told Pfueller he once found an $800 Chanel handbag for $5 and gave it to his daughter.
Jenna Isaacson Pfueller

She launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a trip across the country, in which she’d document thrift store items and the people who bought them. Her goal? To raise $7,000.

“Thrift stores are kind of like a window in the American soul,” said Pfueller on a video posted to her Kickstarter page. “It’s the ultimate end of an environmental cycle that’s healthy for everyone involved. We’re using what we had, getting rid of what we don’t need, but mostly this project is about what we throw out, and what it says about us — as individuals and as a nation.”

Red Sox stuff, like these slippers found at Hope Returns Consignment in Rhode Island, are hot across New England.
Jenna Isaacson Pfueller

Folks liked what they heard and answered with their wallets.

She met her goal and then some, raising $7,559. She then doubled that money by reaching out to Goodwill Industries International, which offered to match her goal, become a sponsor, and even threw in a recreational vehicle (RV) for traveling.

With a clear mission, a sponsor, and some wheels, Pfueller hit the road for five weeks in 2011. She drove 10,000 miles and slept in campgrounds and parking lots. She created a website for the project and posted photos from the road.

“I’m a woman on a mission to document what Americans throw away in all fifty states, and preach the gospel of second-hand consumption along the way,” she wrote on the site.

This photo shows “the beauty that lies hidden” in thrift stores, said Pfueller. For example, each of these t-shirts at Goodwill in Concord, N.H. is a piece of someone’s history.
Jenna Isaacson Pfueller

Goodwill helped her publicize the project and book her stops. Here she is in D.C. during her second trip in 2013, where she drove 3,000 miles — including across New England — in a rented Prius.

Here is her New England route:

Pfueller’s route throught New England’s thrift stores.
Pfueller’s route throught New England.
All Thrifty States

She said she knew she was thrifting in New England when she saw lobster traps, anchors, pots for steaming clams, and lots and lots of Red Sox items.

“It was just so cool to enter Massachusetts and see this awesome seafaring culture I’d always heard about reflected in the stuff that sat for sale in the store,” Pfueller, who grew up in Kansas City and currently lives in Washington, D.C., told us.

Each New England store had a story to tell.

Pfueller really knew she was in New England when she spotted this lobster trap at Freeport Community Services Thrift Store in Maine.
Jenna Isaacson Pfueller

In Vermont, she met a couple shopping for shoes for their 7-year-old daughter. The family counts on thrift stores to stay within budget. “She just burns through shoes," Clifford Lubilz told Pfueller. "Every so often, we do a complete overhaul. This is a good place to do it."

“Much like the Pacific Northwest, Vermont seemed like a place where thrifting was a natural part of the shopping culture,” Pfueller said.

Julia Bacher and Clifford Lubilz help their daughter Jailyn Lubilz, 7, try on shoes at the Goodwill store in Burlington, Vermont on April 20, 2013. A young family on a budget, they're conscious of where their money goes. "She just burns through shoes," Clifford said. "Every so often we do a complete overhaul. This is a good place to do it."
Julia Bacher and Clifford Lubilz helped their daughter Jailyn, 7, try on shoes at Goodwill in Burlington, Vermont.
Jenna Isaacson Pfueller

In Westport, Connecticut, Pfueller encountered the most high-end thrift store on her journey. A single glass case near the register is often reserved for high-priced items. This store was full of glass cases housing scores of handbags and shoes, Pfueller said.

“You could tell by the donation pool that it’s a very well-off area,” Pfueller observed about Goodwill in Westport, Conn.
Jenna Isaacson Pfueller

“It’s just a great microcosm of America,” said Pfueller about thrift stores. “It really is a very regional, cool way to find out about a community.”

Pfueller credits her grandfather for her love of thrifting. He took her all the time as a little girl, and she’s continued the tradition.

Here they are thrifting together in 2010:

The All Thrifty States project stalled when Pfueller got pregnant in 2013 and gave birth to her first child, a son named Jack (named after her thrifting grandpa), in early 2014. She is also working full time now as a photo editor. But she hopes to complete the project in 2015 by visiting the two states she missed.

“Ideally, I’d like to do Alaska and Hawaii in one swoop to finish all 50, so I can start thinking about self publishing,” Pfueller said.

She wants to publish a book, so she’s looking into grants and sponsors that could help fund her final trip.

It doesn’t get more New England than steamed clams. This pot was discovered at Lifebridge Thrift Store in Salem, Mass.
Jenna Isaacson Pfueller