The best thrift shops in Ventura for bargain hunters

Ventura is a quintessential beach town — a little rustic, unpretentious and less frenetic than its counterparts in Orange County or L.A. You’re more likely to spot a vintage VW bus and The Dude wannabes in Ventura than people in suits driving shiny new Mercedes or BMWs.

So it’s no surprise that Ventura is also a thrift shop haven. These are not glamorous stores — many are warehouse-sized with well-worn flooring and scuffed-up walls — but that doesn’t seem to deter the throngs of bargain seekers or treasure hunters out for the ultimate thrift-store prize: something that’s selling for way more on Ebay.

Maybe it’s these high-inflation times but Ventura’s thrift stores are busy even on weekdays — mothers holding sleeping babies, rapidly searching through toddler clothes on borrowed time; preteens critically examining skirts or jeans for stains or (hopefully) rips; a young man in cutoffs trying on button-down shirts in a quest for business casual; and my friends, expert thrifters, jubilantly clutching crystal stemless wine glasses — just $4.50 for 3! — and an exquisitely embroidered $40 silk kimono actually made in Japan!

One of my friends, Leslie, lives in central Washington and dresses primarily in pricy labels she scored for pennies on the dollar at her local Goodwill, like a Patagonia puffer jacket and a Lululemon dress in perfect condition. The trick, she says, is to be patient and browse thrift stores regularly.

It also helps to know the value of what you’re shopping for, says my other friend, Bernie — you don’t want to spend more on a curated used item than you could on something similar at an outlet mall, unless the item is so unique it deserves the extra bucks.

Mostly, this guide is focused on basic thrift stores, the kind that sort through the piles of stuff people donate, give usable things a price and put them on shelves as quickly as they can. Luckily, there are plenty of this kind of store in Ventura, supporting a variety of causes from support for battered women to shelters for abandoned pets.

And don’t worry about picked-over merchandise. We visited several stores on a recent Wednesday, and the employees were stocking shelves so fast, some items hadn’t even been priced. Meanwhile we could see other employees accepting bagfuls of new donations.

Before we tackle the list, here are a few final notes:

  • Ventura has a fair number of consignment stores or vintage shops where used items (usually clothing or furniture) have been carefully curated and priced accordingly higher. There’s still some bargains to be had, but little chance you’ll find a treasure for a couple of bucks.
  • Most of the thrift stores are on or near Main Street in Ventura, either downtown or in Mid City.
  • Check to make sure your store is open. Many rely on volunteers or limited staff to keep the doors open, so they don’t always keep regular hours and some are open only a few days a week.
  • Almost all these stores accept debit cards, but cash is still king when it comes to bargaining.
  • Dressing rooms are nonexistent at the big thrift stores but they don’t mind you trying on clothes in the aisles — as long as you keep your own clothes on.
  • Even the most rustic thrift store has a special counter or locked bookcase filled with rare finds. They are priced higher than what you’ll find elsewhere in the store but check out the locked cases — you never know what they may contain.
  • If you love thrifting, and can visit Ventura on a Wednesday, don’t miss the Wednesday Swap Meet at the Ventura County Fairgrounds. It’s currently closed for the county fair but should restart on Aug. 24, from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is $2 and the offerings are extensive — furniture, kitchenware, clothing, musical instruments, toys en masse, comic books …. honestly, if you can imagine it, it’s probably there, with prices ranging from next to nothing to “Are you kidding?” The best stuff goes early, but note that the later it gets in the day, the more willing vendors are to negotiate. They’re mostly a cheerful, welcoming bunch who love to chat with regulars as much as they like to sell.

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