Best Thrift Store Shopping in the Twin Cities

Minneapolis, Minnesota

By Angie

September 14, 2023

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For me, growing up as a kid in a low-income household in rural northern Wisconsin, ‘used’ or ‘second-hand’ clothes carried a bit of a stigma for me. I didn’t want to appear ‘poor.’ I don’t recall exactly where this feeling came from, but I avoided thrift shopping as a teenager and during college years due to my bias.

This was in the 90’s when hanging out in a mall was the thing to do, though the nearest mall was about an hour drive from my childhood home. This meant in college, once I got my first credit cards, I spent a fair amount of time perusing shopping malls and buying things I admittedly did not need and could not afford by running up my credit card balances.

Even as a student studying courses like accounting and economics for my business degree, I created a sizable credit card debt in those early years. Some of the balance was paying for things like groceries when I didn’t have enough to make ends meet but some was for shopping as a hobby, unfortunately.

As the first person in my extended family to pursue a four-year degree, I didn’t have a realistic picture of the income to expect in relation to cost of living once I had a degree. I figured after I graduated from college, I would make so much money that it would be so easy to just pay it off and move on. I thought I was going to be rich!

Changing My Thinking About Money

I met Jeff when I had just finished graduate school and was planning to figure out how to tackle that credit card debt still looming over me, along with student loan debt. Jeff’s attitude about money was so opposite of mine.

Jeff was always looking for ways to save his hard-earned money. He even tells the story of making some of his own ‘cool’ clothes by saving the fabric labels off some of his worn out Fila brand shoes and repurposing those labels to be sewed into blank t-shirts.

Jeff’s Mom, who is an excellent seamstress, sewed those labels onto the t-shirts to pass as brand name for a fraction of the cost. Jeff has always been interested in repurposing items and finding ways to make items last longer.

Jeff Finds Inspiration Thrift Shopping With ‘Today Is a Good Day for a Good Day’ Sign. (No, we didn’t buy it.)
Jeff Finds Inspiration Thrift Shopping With ‘Today Is a Good Day for a Good Day’ Sign. (No, we didn’t buy it.)

Budgets Are Freedom

Jeff also excitedly told me about how budgets are freedom and began sharing his sometimes helpful and sometimes, well, quirky money saving ways with me. One of the first lessons was not shopping for fun as that leads to unplanned and often unneeded spending.

Remembering the me of the 90’s is like remembering a character in a book I once read now because I live in the type of town I dreamed of as a teenager with access to a mall and many, many stores and I rarely frequent them at all. If I do, it is with a list for a specific purpose and I leave without purchasing anything if the item is not there or not the right price. 90’s me would not recognize me today.

Oh, and that credit card debt? It was paid off within a few years of meeting Jeff and my student loan debt was paid off in full a few years ago, so I can’t say I miss 90’s me all that much.

Thrift Shopping While Traveling

Thrift shopping became one of our early money saving habits together as a couple. Initially, I was won over by the environmental argument for thrift stores to give them a try. Clothing waste is a very real issue and I didn’t want to contribute more than was necessary.

Now, we have come to enjoy it so much that we will incorporate it into our travels at times, when doing so will not conflict with our commitment to packing light. One of my fondest memories from our past travels is the time we were in Southern California with our daughter when she was 15 and she requested we spend the day thrift shopping in Hollywood on that trip.

She was so excited with the Steve Madden high heels and other trendy finds she got that day for a huge savings over retail. I was impressed with her lack of worry about any stigma of secondhand shopping that I would have had at that age.

The Right Mindset for Thrift Shopping

I will mention that I have to be in the right mindset to go thrift shopping if it will involve hunting for clothing, which it often will. As anyone who has shopped for and tried to fit into women’s clothing will know, the sizing is bonkers.

Jeff had no idea about this until he started shopping with me and watched the size I bought bounce from several sizes below my typical size to several sizes over it, while I didn’t change at all. It’s a frustrating experience that most women know all too well.

Thrift shopping can ratchet this challenge of sizing up a notch because you’re going to find items from all different brands and stores in one rack. I will sometimes try on a pair of jeans in a particular size and be unable to get them past my ankles and the next pair in the same size is too big.

I need to be in a patient and confident mindset and look at the thrift store trip as a scavenger hunt adventure so I can laugh at this absurdity and not cry that I do not fit the impossible ideal for women’s bodies in our society.

Filling Our Needs with Thrift Shopping

In addition to the sizing madness for women, Jeff and I are both quite tall. I am 5’10” and Jeff is 6’5” so we don’t easily run across pants that are long enough and shirts with sleeves that hit the wrist instead of the elbow.

Despite these challenges, we find approximately 75% of our clothing at thrift stores and subsidize with retail stores for items we can’t find when necessary. (This is often Eddie Bauer who showers you with random $10 free coupons if you sign up for their rewards program. We both have a bunch of Eddie Bauer items that cost under $5 a piece brand new thanks to these coupons and careful stacking with sales or clearance.)

Having a Goal for the Day of Thrift Shopping

When we go, we are careful to go with a mission in mind. As an example on this most recent trip I am sharing about in this post, I needed some new jeans and since I work from home and wear many pairs of yoga pants, I can always use a new pair of what I call comfy, cozy pants.

Another tip is to resist buying things just because they are a good deal. This can be a challenge when something is ONLY $1 but we try to remember the goal of the trip and ask if we really need it. In this area, we’re definitely not perfect!

Twin Cities Thrift Shops

With our home in Western Wisconsin, we live just over an hour from the Minneapolis/St Paul Twin Cities metro area. We do visit a few local thrift shops on occasion, but find we like to make a day trip to the Twin Cities with the purpose of thrift shopping a couple of times a year because there are so many options very close to one another and the scale of the stores increases our likelihood of finding what we’re looking for on those visits.

On our recent trip, we challenged ourselves to try a few other thrift store options outside of our favorite options that we frequent over and over again. I will share a bit about those other stores, but honestly, we found ourselves having the best luck at our old favorite, Arc’s Value Village-which I will get to in a bit.

I had a post from another blogger touting the Clothes Mentor as a great thrift store option in the Twin Cities. There are several locations and upon writing this article, I just saw that the location we visited closed permanently shortly after our visit. Other locations are still open in the Twin Cities metro area.

The Clothes Mentor

The Clothes Mentor has more the feel of a boutique than a thrift store. It had a small footprint and therefore less selection, naturally. It also only sold women’s clothing and mostly higher end brands. As I have gotten spoiled by finding items for a few dollars each, the store was too pricey for my preferences now.

I did find a new pair of yoga pants and a long sleeve Old Navy shirt in the clearance section for a total cost of $6.60 that day. As I said above about avoiding items that are a good deal and are not on the list that day, I failed with the Old Navy shirt. If you’re looking for a less thrift store feel and willing to spend a bit more than a typical thrift store but still save over retail, this might be a store for you to consider.

Clothes Mentor Entrance & My Finds.
Clothes Mentor Entrance & My Finds.

Goodwill in Bloomington, MN

I also read a post that the Goodwill in Bloomington often has great finds and so we decided to check it out. This is where Jeff found the ‘Today is a Good Day to have a Good Day’ sign we shared above, which we admired but did not buy.

We marveled over the massive stapler collection and thought it might be a cool store for a collector of records to check out, but for us, nothing met our needs on this shopping trip so we were not there too long.

Goodwill Bloomington Exterior and Their Plethora of Staplers and Records.
Goodwill Bloomington Exterior and Their Plethora of Staplers and Records.

Arc’s Value Village -Our Favorite Twin Cities Thrift Store

For years now, I would guess at least a decade, the Arc’s Value Village stores in the Twin Cities Metro have been our favorite thrift stores. The deals aren’t as good as they once were, but we still find great value in their three locations in the metro. There used to be four locations and we would frequent them all.

We also miss their Sunday deal where the color tag that was on 50% off for the week went to $1.59 with a new color tag starting it’s week at 50% off. Despite the inevitable changes, a color tag is still always 50% off and even the items not on sale are often priced very low here. We almost always find at least a few items on our visits to Arc’s Value Village locations.

In addition, they offer a rewards program where your purchases earn points for a future $10 off coupon and you only need to know your phone number at checkout to collect your reward points. In the past, I have also received a free $5 coupon around my birthday that we have made great use of, too. My birthday is at the end of this month so we will see if they are still doing that in 2023 very soon.

On this particular shopping day, we started with the Bloomington location of Arc’s Value Village and I had so much luck there that we didn’t need to venture to the locations in New Hope or Richfield.

For $37, I got four pairs of jeans, a pair of capris, a tank top, and a long sleeve athletic shirt. The total was not exactly $37 but they offer the ability to round up your purchase for their work supporting people with disabilities and I always do. It should be noted, I had to try on approximately 25 pairs of jeans to find the four that worked, but for that kind of savings I was up for the challenge.

Arc’s Value Village Bloomington & My Finds.
Arc’s Value Village Bloomington & My Finds.

Thrifty Living and Generosity

One hesitation we have about writing this blog is that we don’t want people to read it as us saying all you have to do is shop at thrift stores or eat value boxes at Taco Bell or ‘fill in the money saving tip here’ and all of your money problems will be solved. We recognize that there are very real financial challenges that face many people and they can’t thrift shop their way out of those challenges.

I grew up in a challenging setting like this so I strive to be sensitive. I saw a social media post recently where an influencer had stated, “All you need to travel is courage.” And, the response from another was, “Great, please tell me specific airlines and hotels that accept courage as a currency.” We’re trying to be careful so that our posts here do not come across as insensitive as that influencer’s post was.

For some, being generous and living thrifty are incongruent. We find that generosity is another major motivator for us to live thrifty so we have more to be able to share with causes we believe in and those in need.

We experienced an emotional reminder of all of this as we left the Arc’s Value Village on this day. As we left the store, we immediately heard the goose-bump inducing melody of Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen played by an electric violin. This song has always made me emotional.

Jeff and I were confused as to where this beautiful music was coming from. We were standing outside the strip mall that houses Arc’s Value Village in a large parking lot shared by a grocery store and other various businesses.

As we walked to our car, we spotted the woman playing her electric violin on a cement island in the middle of the parking lot. She had a sign next to her stating she was having trouble making her rent and buying food for her children, two of whom sat on the curb nearby.

Many will criticize this woman’s situation or advise her to just ‘get a job’ without knowing her story. I was raised by a hard-working single Mom who worked full-time in long-term healthcare but the role did not pay a living wage then and for many jobs, that is still the case.

Regardless of this woman’s situation, Jeff and I both felt compelled to show our appreciation for her sharing her captivating talent with us, as we would at a concert by buying tickets, and so donated to her Venmo she had on the sign because we do not carry much cash most of the time.

To us, it felt like it was meant to be that we were there at that time to experience her impressive musical talent.