Tag Archives: Shopping

The Chop at the Pawn Shop

Baltimore, more than most cities, has always embraced thrift in all its forms. Whether it’s the local Goodwill, the flea market, church basement sale, consignment shops or just finding things on the street, Charm City natives are always keen to save a buck. As anyone who’s saved more than a couple of bucks will tell you, the key to scoring great finds on non-new goods is to keep a constant eye out. Something like the perfect cocktail shaker isn’t going to just sit on the shelf and wait for you to buy it. You’ve got to wait for it, and be ready to snatch it up when it appears.

Of course Joe is honest. It says so right on the building.

This is why we’re surprised that more of our friends aren’t in the habit of making regular visits to the pawn shop.

The Chop will take any chance we can get to browse around in a pawn shop, and with brass balls hanging all over the city, that’s no shortage of chances. After all, the pawn shop is just another form of thrift. It may even be the best form of thrift there is, because unlike a Salvation Army or an endless flea market, there’s not a lot of true junk to sift through in a pawn shop. Most everything on display is in the store because the pawnbroker judged it to have some objective value.

After a while, you get a good idea of the typical pawn shop inventory. If you’re in search of a watch (or any other sort of jewelry) a guitar, power tools, or an extra TV for that guest bedroom, you can realize some significant savings buying from a pawn.

We’re thinking of buying a sawzall right now, for instance. Of course, we’re no Bob Vila or anything, just a simple homeowner. We’re not going to use the thing more than twice a year, so saving half of the Home Depot price tag by scoring one used is a no brainer. While we’re there, we might even pick up a few DVD’s (3 for $10 is not unusual) and maybe even some choice CD’s from 1993.

The next time you’re in a neighborhood with a pawn shop, (which is probably right now) go ahead and pop in for a look around. Sure, it can be a little sketchy sometimes, with the buzzer on the door and the gun stashed just out of sight under the counter. It can even be morbid and depressing, seeing the rings of so many broken engagements and heirlooms hocked to make the rent, but you’re a Baltimorean… you should be used to all that by now.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under A Day in the Life of the Chop

Best Bets: Christmas Shopping at the AVAM Sideshow

Remember the first time you ate at Paper Moon Diner? You were probably in your first year of college, or maybe it was even over the summer in high school. Remember how you had to put your name on a list, and amuse yourself outside for like half an hour while you waited for a table? Remember how all the girls were unabashed about making eyes at the dessert case and how it was a big discussion whether or not to sit in the smoking section?

Most of all, remember the first time you saw all those toys?

Of course you do. You had a good buzz on. Maybe you were even a little high, and you sat down in there and had to put forth a Herculean effort not to roam around the dining room touching everything you could reach, putting figures in dirty poses and telling everyone crap stories from your childhood. You did that. We all did that.

The Sideshow gift shop at the AVAM has toys for kids from 6 to 66.

That, Baltimore, is the very same feeling you will get the first time you step foot into the Sideshow, the gift shop at the American Visionary Art Museum.

Far from your typical museum gift shop, the Sideshow’s curiosities rival the museum itself. Part Dime Museum, part Toys-R-Us, and part Art Mart, this place is literally a one-stop non-mall Christmas shop with gifts for kids from six to sixty-six.

The last time the Chop was down that way, the Sideshow was closed because it was nighttime and the time before that the place was packed because the museum was free, so we didn’t spend as much time browsing and playing around as we might have liked, but we were definitely impressed enough that we’re planning to make a separate trip down there just to see the gift shop, which you can do without paying for admission to the museum.

This time we’re going to block out at least a solid hour for playing and perusing among their shelves, which are densely packed from floor to ceiling with everything from the highbrow (art books, tea sets) to the lowbrow (plastic dog poop, fake vomit) and everything in between. We can’t wait to get a proper look at all those toys, as well as their selection of original artworks and goods curated from around the world. We’re also especially interested in their archive of screen printed posters from indie rock shows around the country, which are art in their own right and suitable for framing.

We’re going to be bringing two lists with us when we go: one of the people we’ll need to shop for for Christmas, and a blank list for all the stuff in there we’re going to want.

_________________________________________________________

Sideshow at the Visionary is located at 800 Key Highway in Federal Hill. 443-872-4926. Of course, we’re not actually going today, because like everything else in this crummy town they are closed on Mondays. Their hours are Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-6pm.

Leave a comment

Filed under Best Bets

Chop Style: How to Shop at Target

You can ask any woman and they’ll all tell you the same thing… you can find some really great stuff at Target.

It’s no accident either. Whereas their main competitor Wal-Mart seems to purposefully sell the most generic, basic and bland sorts of items across the board and across the country, Target’s designer fashion program is consistently on-trend, versatile, and affordable, and is not only key to their business model, but to their success as well.

Whether it’s through partnerships with big name designers like Jean Paul Gaultier or Alexander McQueen, nationwide agreements with labels like Mossimo and Converse, or just hiring talented, sensible designers into their house label, design sensibility and reasonable prices make Target almost impossible to ignore.

It's hard to go wrong in a pair of Levi's.

Unfortunately, as with some other stores, women seem to have it much better than men in the aisles of Target. The Men’s section in every Target we’ve ever seen has been underwhelming, to say the least. Not only is it relegated to a small corner of the store, but it often looks more like it’s full of overgrown boys’ clothes than anything an actual man would wear. Still though, if you choose carefully it is possible to come away from Target with a few great pieces of clothing without spending much money at all.

The main thing to keep in mind is that you are in fact a man, and not an overgrown boy. This alone will rule out entire swaths of the men’s section very quickly. Once you get past the many racks of giant hibiscus printed board shorts, cargo shorts, and crummy graphic tees you’re on the right track.

While you’re at it, you can also skip right over any and all dress shirts, slacks, jackets, suits, shirts or anything that one might wear to an office. This is not where Target excels, and you’d do much better to pick these up elsewhere. Despite the partnership with Converse, the men’s shoe section can’t hold a candle to an actual shoe store. Once you’ve gotten past all this, you’re left with what is generally regarded as weekend wear.

Great for outdoor parties because it attracts women... and barbecue sauce.

As with any large chain, Target selection is dictated by volume. The good news is that everything is seasonally appropriate. You won’t find yourself buried in cable-knit sweaters in July or perusing shorts in December. The bad news is that sizing is at it’s most basic and is very limited. Most menswear in Target stores is labeled S,M,L, or maybe XL. Jeans run from about 30″-40″. If you’re accustomed to ‘big and tall’ shopping, you can likely stay out of Target entirely.

For the rest of us, it is crucial to keep in mind a rule you would follow at all times: Don’t outfit yourself entirely from any one store. We put that in bold italics because it’s important. It doesn’t matter whether that store is Target, Banana Republic, or Brooks Brothers. Buying too many clothes from one source shows through on the street, and it never looks quite right.

100% cotton and flat fronts. What more do you want?

What you’re looking for at Target is typically solid basics like a pair of Levi’s or Wranglers (mind the Brett Favre dad-jeans though, there are plenty of those around), some flat-front chinos or a casual button up or polo. It can also be an outstanding source for certain accessories, most especially socks, belts, boxers and hats.

The hat selection is much better than you’d expect, but keep in mind that it’s very easy to look like a total shart in a hat. Don’t even try it if you’re under 30, and eschew any shred of irony.

Several types of polos, all under $15.

By the same turn, it’s also a terrible place to shop for accessories. Sunglasses, wristwatches, and anything else that’s not socks, belts or boxers can be pretty tacky and is usually of very poor quality.

Our ultimate advice? Don’t go to Target for clothes. But if you happen to be in there for a new TV or a set of dishes or a small appliance, be sure to at least glance at the clothes. You might be pleasantly surprised.

__________________________________________________________

Note: because of technical issues with Target’s website, these photos are of similar products. They’re of about the same quality and fairly well representative of Target’s offerings. Sorry about that.

Share

3 Comments

Filed under Chop Style

The Best Midnight Snacks After a Night Out Drinking

We know you like to eat, Baltimore. We know you like to eat well, too. You’re all about your farmers’ markets and your new restaurants and your local, sustainable, seasonal ingredients and everything else.

We like to eat as much as the next armchair gourmet, but even more than that, we like to drink. A sub-par meal can always be salvaged by a stiff Rusty Nail beforehand, a bottle of Boordy Rockfish during, and a generous pour of Cognac afterward.

Of course sometimes when we’re out on the town, we have such a good dinner that we forget to actually order any food. When we stumble home at 2:15 am and realize that our kitchen is not air-conditioned and that brown rice and whole vegetables often require a lot of time-consuming and messy work over a hot stove, our palate becomes a lot less sophisticated real quick.

Still though, eating Captain Crunch by hand right out of the box or smothering questionable leftovers with ketchup is a low to which we cannot stoop. After a long night of boozing it is necessary to walk that fine line between quality and convenience. It’s at dire times like these we’re glad that we make a point of always keeping on hand one of our top five favorite midnight snacks.

Morningstar Farms Burgers

At only about 2 minutes in the microwave, these things are already done before you can reach for the buns and plates. They come in several varieties (including vegan) and you can top them off about a thousand different ways. These might be our favorite food, period.

V8 Soups

A little pricier than your average can of soup, but well worth it. These things are good enough on their own, but once you throw in a handful of baby spinach and heat up a couple of slices of frozen cheesy garlic bread, you can easily pass off your booze blackout as a food coma.

Knorr-Lipton Pasta Pouches

These things also come in several flavors and usually cost less than $2 each. They boil up in under 10 minutes in one pan, which is just enough time to add your own frozen vegetables to the mix and have them end up just right.

Zatarain’s Black Beans and Rice

This product takes a little longer to cook up, but it won’t cost you any more effort. It’s a good choice if you’re making it home before last call, and you’ve also got plenty of choices on what to add to it or top it off with. As an added bonus, these boxes are just big enough to feed two people.

Noodle Bowl

Nowadays there’s a lot more to instant noodles that the old nickel packs of Top Ramen. Rice noodles cook almost instantly, and while a noodle bowl is not quite substantial enough to be a meal unto itself, you can pair it with any sort of microwaveable spring roll, or add some frozen potstickers for a quick and tasty nosh.

* * *

The careful reader may have noticed that all of these choices are vegetarian friendly. The fact is that the Chop is a vegetarian, and we wouldn’t recommend anything we’re not eating ourselves. While after a long night’s drinking you may be more interested in Esskay franks or a bologna sandwich, we at least hope it goes to show that eating vegetarian is a lot easier than most people think, and even when you’re getting tipsy and microwaving, you’re still getting a better meal than what you find on most bar food menus.

Share

3 Comments

Filed under Chop Rants!

Chop Style: Guide to Thrift Store Shopping: Part II

Okay! so now that you know your size, what you need, and everything else we talked about yesterday, we’re finally ready to hit the shops. But don’t run out the door just yet. You can still go very wrong, very quickly if you’re not careful.

The goal here is to go for classic style. We could drink Pikesville manhattans all night and try to talk about what classic style means, but a picture is worth a thousand words. We suggest you stop taking Mad Men as your primary frame of reference, and once again strongly urge you all to check out the impossible cool.

This is how grown-ups dress. Jean Shrimpton and bystanders. (Image courtesy the impossible cool.)

When walking into a thrift shop, there are three ways you can go. One of them is to make a beeline for the racks of your sex and size, which is highly recommended. The goal here is efficiency, and since you already know what you’re looking for, why not go find it?

You can also head toward the “boutique” section that some stores feature near the front. These sections are typically made up of designer clothes in good condition, which are priced higher than the rest of the stock (though sometimes still a bargain). Here’s a dirty little secret though… what ends up in the boutique section is mostly arbitrary. It’s all according to the tastes and knowledge of hourly thrift store employees, who aren’t exactly fashionistas themselves. You’ll see a lot of labels you recognize, but big name designers are sometimes also fuck-ups. There’s really no difference in quality between the boutique rack and the general stock.

You can also stray into the sections that contain furniture, housewares, books and records, etc. Don’t do this! You’re here to shop for clothes today. Come back another time for all the other stuff. It’s entirely possible you’ll piss away an hour combing through Perry Como records while someone else walks away with that Fred Perry cardigan that would have looked better on you.

Not everyone looked dumb in the 70's. (Chet Baker. Image courtesy the impossible cool.

Now let’s get down to the straight dope. You’re standing in front of the rack and looking at a row of about 30 white shirts. How the hell do you know which one to buy? Aren’t they all the same? No. On with the tips:

>>> Fit. We know we already said that you have to know your size and try everything on, but you’re not just seeing if you can get it on, you want it to fit perfectly. Not all clothes are cut to what the tag says, and not all people fit patterns. There are plenty of articles online describing how things should fit, but basically if you’re trying it on and think it’s imperfect, it is. Sleeve length, neckroom, waist, shoulders; it’s hard to get every measurement to fall into place. It takes a lot of patience to find a piece that fits perfectly, but once you do you’ll find yourself reaching for it often, and thinking everything else in your closet doesn’t quite fit correctly.

>>> Material. Natural. No polyester. No rayon. No bullshit. Do you want to look like a cheap set of K-mart draperies, or like this? You should be looking for cotton and wool primarily, and the best quality of it you can find. These clothes will last you a lifetime. How do you think that herringbone jacket ended up here? It’s very possible that it out-lived it’s owner.

>>>Damage. Don’t buy damaged clothing. Ever. Don’t. Don’t try to convince yourself that that stain is too small to notice or that that hole will be hidden by your outerwear. It won’t, and you’ll look ridiculous. The only exception to this is damage that you are absolutely certain you can fix yourself. A missing button isn’t a problem. An off-the-seam tear is.

>>> Alteration. Going hand in hand with fit and damage is alteration. If you can alter your own clothes you’re way ahead of the game. The Chop has successfully altered jacket sleeves and added custom shirt buttons, but we’d fear to try anything more advanced. If you find that perfect outfit that doesn’t quite fit, you can have it altered (also altering the total price) but it’s important to understand what a tailor (read: dry-cleaner) can and can’t do.

>>> Look for tags and labels. Not that you should shop on tags and labels exclusively, but they can tell you a lot about a garment’s history. You’d be surprised how much never-worn clothing hits thrift stores with store tags still on it. Not that store tags make one garment inherently better than another, but they are nice to have. Labels are important to watch also. Most stores (Target, Macy’s, etc) have their own in-house brands. Tons of this shite ends up in thrift stores, and while it’s not all bad, it’s important to know that “Faded Glory” means you’re holding a pair of Wal-Mart jeans. Without resorting to being a label-whore, there’s no denying that big-name fashion houses do hire the best designers in the world, and make clothes that aren’t meant to be disposable.

>>> Shoes and accessories. You need to be very careful about walking a mile in another man’s shoes. You should never look to find boots, casual shoes, or athletic shoes used. You might, however, find a good pair of occasional shoes. Women have it much better than men in this respect, but even the men can find a good pair of brogues or something if you look long enough. The same rules as clothing apply, and don’t forget to look around at accessories. We got our Christian Dior bi-fold wallet at an area Goodwill, and get complimented on it all the time.

>>> Finally, take chances, but manage risks. The best part of shopping in a thrift store is that stuff is cheap. Buying white pants this Spring doesn’t have to mean pissing away half a day’s pay. If you get them home and realize that they actually don’t work on you, you can donate them right back. Always think about the places and events to which you could wear something, and the clothes you can match it to. Buy something you might not normally, but always, always, for Christ’s sake always resist the temptation to buy anything ironic.

Share

1 Comment

Filed under Chop Style