It was several years ago when I first came across Al Hoff’s ‘zine, Thrift Score. It was the Tiki issue, and I was thrilled to see justification of the thrifting lifestyle. In addition to the ‘zine, Hoff also managed to publish Thrift Score, a book — nay, bible — on thrifting. Thrifting has gone through a not so subtle metamorphosis in recent years. As the joy of thrift has died, so has Al Hoff’s desire to continue the ‘zine. Al Hoff recently released her final issue of Thrift Score to focus on other projects, including the release of her second book, entitled If You Like Pi•a Coladas: The Humor and Weirdness of Personal Ads. She also maintains a website, Al Hoff World (http://members.tripod.com/~Al_Hoff/).
What did you find had changed about, not just thrifting, but collecting in general during the time you did the ‘zine, Thrift Score?
I think in retrospect, we’re going to find those are watershed years, if I can coin in that way. The easiest answer is the umbrella answer — there has been a real shift in how people view thrifting. It’s not a bad thing, necessarily, but where previously, second hand stuff was stigmatized, things have changed so that people are comfortable with it. Partly why I started Thrift Score was I thought there was this sort of secret underground of people who thrifted. Thrift stores were mystery spots. People didn’t know where they were. They were apt to be in bad neighborhoods where people would not go to them. Again it was this sort of cultish behavior and there was a thrill in that there was a lot of effort to get stuff. It sort of made it cooler. I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but certainly in the mid west and out west, the thrift stores are not in the inner cities at all. They’ve all relocated to the suburbs. Strip malls and new stores where they take credit cards and have dressing rooms. It brings in a whole new group of people and thrift stores are very actively trying to reach people who aren’t thrift store shoppers. It has completely changed. I used to whine about it a lot more.
I figure eventually Goodwill or the Salvation Army will start an auction site.
Goodwill has one. I think it’s called Goodwill Online or Goodwill.com. They realized that people were buying things and selling it on eBay. Then they had some of their own employees sell some on eBay. I looked at it the first couple of months it was up and there was hardly anything there. I expect that it’s not going to do very well because eBay is this four hundred pound gorilla. Even Yahoo! and Amazon can’t compete with their auctions. But that’s what they would do, they were skimming the quality items, and it was a joke. Some of the things were obvious and some things you’d look at and think, “nobody’s going to buy that.”
What do you thin of these things that I like to call “created collectibles,” like Pokemon and comic book variant covers and stuff like that?
Well, I look at those and I just smell the carnival. To me, they are so obvious, they’re just crap. It’s just mass manufactured pieces of shit. It’s mind-boggling to me that people buy it. But I guess that’s the old Barnum line that nobody ever went poor underestimating the taste of the public. You know, the bottom’s going to drop out of all of them. It just baffles me from a pure logic point of view. If people are acquiring that stuff because they definitely like it, that’s fine. But I’m boggled that people think of them as some sort of investment. It has never been easier to make investments than right now, with the economy, and people are putting their money into plastic dogs from McDonald’s — it’s surreal! I don’t know. How do you stop people from buying this stuff? I don’t know what to say to that person. It’s clear that I can’t convince them otherwise. As a thrift shopper, you look at all this crap and you know there’s going to be baskets of this stuff at every garage sale at every thrift store. And we’re going to say, “Do you remember that Christmas when everyone had to have a Furby?” Look, here’s twenty, stupid, busted, those were the ones that talked back right, they’re going to be silent and torn up… and… I don’t know.
What inspired you to do a book on personal ads?
In a round about way, it came about when I was doing Thrift Score. Someone actually sent me a personal ad they clipped out of their paper about someone wanting someone to go thrifting with them. I thought that was really funny and I started going through the paper and free weeklies looking for more ads. It was a good thing I did it then because I don’t know what it’s like where you are but here the personal ads aren’t full of creative thinking anymore. You go through all these services that essentially write the ads for you so all the ads end up reading exactly the same. I found a lot of them where people had to be born on a certain day. In addition to having all these other rare traits… I mean born on a certain day? What are they on?
Have you reached critical mass in your house?
Yes! Very much so. I dream of fires to just take it all away. I can’t get rid of it. It’s like a sickness, I’m sick of this stuff, but I can’t give it up.