I am often asked to reveal my secret sources. Which thrift store has the good stuff? The answer's not so easy. Every store has at least one gem. My advice for finding the best shopping spot is two-fold:
1. Find the thrift store with the lowest pricing and shop there over and over. Frequency is better than a city-wide search. Becoming a regular at fewer stores means that you will spot the fresh inventory first. Get to know the sales cycle and follow the markdowns. You'll also shop faster because you can gloss over last month's rejects.
2. Look on the map. When it comes to small, independent stores, choose those located in or near the richer side of town. Volunteers and donations tend to stay within a small radius. However, when it comes to city-wide chains, shop on the wrong side of the tracks. Sounds counterintuitive, doesn't it? However, chain stores in better areas are overshopped because people assume that the goods are somehow better. Not true! Here, city-wide chains like Goodwill and Salvation Army truck ALL donations to a central processing center and then ship them back out to stores across the city. The good stuff is evenly distributed, yet some of it goes unrecognized in the poorer areas of town. Professional Ebayers are catching on to my trick with their hunt-to-kill attitudes, but the principle still stands.
If you're not sure how to find a thrift shop, look in the Yellow Pages under Thrift Shops. I first discovered some of my favorites in my own city's book. It's also the first thing I pull out of a hotel drawer when I stay overnight in a new city. When you do get to a new place, look for a seasoned shopper and ask her if there are any other shops nearby.