5/31/2008 - Mid South Outlet (Summer of Summer) / MFM

hello all and welcome again to the traveling freakshow known as bitter/books, finally after months of misleading entendres and vaguely threatening comments getting down to business and tackling the thrift monolith that is summer ave...can you feel the electricity in the air? i can, but then again i've been sliding around on the carpet in my stocking feet for about 20 minutes while rubbing balloons on my head, so i'm probably not the best person to ask.

before we get down to the nitty and/or gritty, i wanted to mention another place we visited today that's fast becoming a local institution in its own right: the memphis farmers market, located off the south main arts district, adjacent to the power house art space, another one of my favorite things about this town, at the corner of front street and g.e. patterson. a couple quick pics and we'll be off into thrifty goodness, i promise.

the wife to end all wives (center frame) and lil' sis, sizing up the scope of things. it was pretty much an ideal day for an outdoor market to be running - calm but gusty wind off the river, nice middling temperature (this was at about 9:30 so it hadn't really started heating up yet) and only moderate humidity. i couldn't promise this kind of a day every week but everything's pretty well covered up so even if there's a little bit of rain you can still stay dry while you shop.

on their website faq there's a little section about how "health regulations" don't allow you to bring your dog, but the "courtesy pet sitting" tent seems to allow intrepid pet owners to circumvent that particular piece of city code, as long as you don't mind leaving your beloved canine with a total stranger while you examine organic turnips. it also allows envious future dog owners like the missus and i to gawk vicariously at other people's pets, if that doesn't sound too creepy. i guess it probably does huh

a quick shot from the inside...i toyed with the idea of going around to each table and getting shots of all the outstanding produce, crafts, food and drink available but that would entail its own entry to do it justice and let's be honest, this isn't going to turn into bitter/books/freshfruitsandvegetables any time soon.

okay enough about the food! BRING ON THE THRIFT!!!

for my first foray into the deep dark amazonian jungle that is the morass of thrift stores, antique stores, flea markets and just flat out junk shops that is the 3400 block of summer avenue in memphis tennessee, i picked the Mid-South Outlet store, situated pretty much smack dab in the middle of all the chaos. i've always had good experiences here, the prices are pretty reasonable across the board and i consistently come up with my weirdest, most off the wall finds at this particular location, for reasons i cannot exactly pin down to my satisfaction.

a few initial notes: this place is PACKED. always. all the time. every time i go there. i know saturday late morning/early afternoon is a particularly high traffic little window of time, but i get the sense there's a crowd in here from about 5 minutes after they unlock the door until about 5 minutes before they close. definitely not a place for agoraphobes, or claustrophobes for that matter. i'm a m.f.in' solider, so i stuck it out for you, dear readers, but i have definitely driven right past this place on other occasions if i didn't feel like i had the energy to deal with the traffic/parking/winding your way in and out of tightly packed crowds of people who are not even remotely paying attention to you thing.

it's a good sized store, i mean it's not on the level of the giant airplane hanger sized goodwills out in bartlett or anything, but it's got a fair amount of floor space, they just PACK the stuff in on every available surface or spare six inches of floor space until it really feels like the store has just swallowed you, if that's not a little gross sounding. let me put it this way: in about six or seven visits before today, i had never once made it to the "unique boutique" counter (jewelry, whatever knickknacks they think they can sell for a few bucks extra) all the way at the back of the store, and it wasn't for lack of trying. if i hadn't had my blinders on a little bit, even focusing enough on getting the pictures taken for this blog would have been impossible. there is literally that much going on around you at all times.

let me try to describe it like this: there's so much stuff, just coming and going and stacked up and piled everywhere that the organization of the place suffers a little at certain points, but the sheer volume of sh*t available and the fact that the prices are fairly reasonable across the board (books, i'll get to in a minute, but as a generalization it holds true) totally compensates for the relatively meager amount of sifting through things you have to do to get to the gold mines. there's your basic sectional organization...from furniture (above)

to sporting goods (all the usual suspects, golf clubs, tennis rackets, hockey sticks, but i don't know, it all just seems somehow more...buyable here? does that make any sense?)

to light fixtures and glass globes and whatnot

to housewares and various kitchen and food related items - unfortunately not in one self-contained area, it definitely took a little bit of legwork to stumble across these two awesome soda spritzers. the left one came home with me and stands ready and waiting for the next time i want some carbonated (or i guess nitrogenated) water for my mixed cocktails, powered by the N20 cartridges which the wife and i use for perfectly legitimate reasons (savory whipped cream, mixed and stored in our specially designed Whip-It™ brand metal pitcher, for example) and not for flagrant self-abuse with the aid of specially constructed balloons. how one could even dream up such a ludicrous concept is completely beyond my ability to grasp. the thought.

to books, which, sadly are probably this store's most glaring achilles' heel, as is often the case. i say that, acknowledging that of course i have higher and more prohibitive standards than your average member of the book-buying public is going to bring to bear, since i'm trying to get a LOT of VERY good books for VERY little money, for my ever approaching bookstore, and as time presses forward i get surer and surer that there probably isn't going to be a thrift store in town that will have that magical combination of price and selection that i need to really start accumulating quantity anyway, so maybe i'll have to start branching out and hitting up garage sales too, now that the weather's all summery and nice. we'll see.

anyway this is the only book i found that seemed worth the trouble, purchased more for the font on the cover than anything else. i guess when i finally break down and go buy some formidable piece of hardware i'll at least have a grossly out of date manual on how to clean and repair it. i don't know...whatever.

where were we? oh yeah, these bad boys. so being newly reintroduced to the vhs market (see "vcr dilemma" earlier in the week), i'm suddenly looking at a whole new section of the average thrift store that i have to restrain myself from making foolish, ill-advised purchases from. from. i guess there are worse things in the world. i actually had the whole monty python collection on vhs when it became readily apparent that dvd was not going away in roughly the mid-to late nineties (hey, no one's ever accused me of being AHEAD of the technological curve) so off they all went, courtesy of amazon.com, and the entire collection was RE-bought (you get the whole obsessive thing by now, right?) on dvd, only to be re-sold i'm sure at some distant point in the future when they finally develop the microchip brain implants that will digitally stream any recorded media ever directly into your cerebral cortex for permanent storage, wirelessly, for free. suck on that neal stephenson! anyway seeing these guys made me nostalgic, i guess was my point. who knows

clothes are definitely a strong suit at every store on summer ave, although the prices and selection and presence of changing facilities vary wildly from store to store. i very nearly got this shirt for my buddy chad, being a native of our beautiful 50th state, but it's a 3XL and there's a good chance he would have taken that as me calling him fat (which come on man, would i ever do that?) and probably either stepped on my sunglasses or attacked me with a guitar, as he's been known to do. just kidding, my good man. congrats again - i hope your honeymoon has been delightful and i miss you and the wife terribly. say hi to saber for me.

so okay. i'm working my way through the "unspecified junk/electrical components/stuff we couldn't think of where else to put" section, which is far and away my favorite part of any thrift store, ever, and is always where the real treasures are to be found, kind of marveling at the huge stack of 8mm film cases they had, not for any real use of mine or anything for anyone i could imagine, just sort of lost in the reverie of wondering where they came from, what lives they had lived and where they might end up, when BAM!

i look up and there it is! gordon shumway, b*tch! straight outta melmac! i know i'm showing my stripes here and if you don't happen to be a child of the eighties, and a very certain segment of said decade at that, then your excitement level is not even in the same ballpark as mine, but, you know, substitute whatever tv show you got off on as a little kid (Land of the Lost, H.R. Pufnstuf, Rainbow Brite, friggin, i don't know, Boy Meets World, Power Rangers...what the hell do kids even like any more?) and you can probably imagine how i felt when i stumbled on this little puppy, and oh did i forget to mention IT'S NEVER BEEN USED? the piece of paper for the warranty or three year guarantee (sadly, long elapsed) was still inside and the thermos still smelled like fresh plastic when you opened it up. oh. my. god. amusingly enough the original price tag from kmart (4.86) was still on there, noticeably visible on the outside, and the store's new price tag (4.98) was hidden on the inside of the top lid, this being the rare instance when something that's ended up in a thrift store has actually APPRECIATED in value, even if it is only, you know, 13 cents. hey, 5 bucks was a lot of money in 1988, especially for a kid! that'd be like three playstations and a month's worth of adderall for an eight year old kid nowadays! god i'm old.

anyway i freaked when i saw this, grabbed it and ran up to the counter, paid for my haul and scurried back to the car to stash my new possessions before the cool police caught me and detained me for having stuff that was far cooler than i deserve...that's a recurring fantasy of mine. all in all it was a great day, even if circumstances dictated that i break my usual rules about being conspicuous with the picture and note-taking and including customers and employees in my photos. i know it's not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things, it's just a potentially tricky situation and a little bit of an invasion of people's privacy so if i can, i try to keep it to a minimum, that just wasn't possible today. i did show an uncharacteristic bit of restraint though, when confronted with an 8 year old kid who had ""MONEY"" shaved into the back of his head. my quotes, in case you're curious, are surrounding the quotes that were actually there. it wasn't just that his large, mildly aggressive parents were standing right there...there was just something so perfect about it that i felt like a picture would somehow ruin things, i don't know, ruin the moment maybe, just ruin something i didn't want to run the risk of ruining. so if you're reading this Money (and i'd like to believe that you are), just know that i saw you and i think you're the man.

a few quick (yeah right) closing thoughts, one mini-mission statement and then we'll wrap up. nearly everyone i've described this quixotic little project to has recommended, mentioned, or somehow referenced the stores on summer avenue. "summer ave" is synonymous with "thrift stores" in memphis tennessee, for better or worse. i think it's great and i make a point of taking everyone who visits from out of town at least PAST this strip, even if time or other constraints don't permit a proper visit. but when i started scouting locations to photograph and write up, i kept having the same thought - "why tell people about something that everyone already seems to know about?" anyone who isn't at least superficially familiar with these stores already probably isn't going to care about this blog at all, so what purpose would it serve? so i hit the road, hit the suburbs, hit up elvis presley blvd and winchester rd and everywhere else i could think of, so that when i finally got around to this concentrated little block (which i always knew i would - i never inteded to ignore it) it would have some context and seem to fit into a larger overall picture, instead of just portraying the whole thrift "scene" in this town as being as centralized as i think a lot of people see it to be. wow what a stupidly long and confusing sentence. you get my point. i hope

anyway so while i was giggling over my lunchbox (what a wonderfully euphemistic phrase that is) in the parking lot, i started thinking about what a relatively sizable task i was undertaking by finally getting around to tackling what is, in all honesty, the heart of thrift culture in memphis, and i realized that if i wanted to give each store its due (which pretty much entails tackling one per trip, just for sheer volume of words and thoughts and communication that i can produce in one week) and really bear down and get to the heart of exactly what the hell is going on on summer ave, that it would indeed take me probably the duration of said season, so it is with a mixture of pride and apprehension that i welcome you all to the newest leg of our journey:


that's right, i'll be spending the entire rest of the summer (defined loosely by the period in between the end of this past public school year and the beginning of the next) going up and down summer avenue, hitting up every place that calls itself thrift, discount, or bargain, until some larger picture of the whole place (hopefully) starts to emerge. it saddens me a little to ignore the rest of my beloved stores (i'll miss you most of all, Thrift Town) but god dammit it has to be done. i can't credibly claim to know what's up in this town vis a vis other people's junk unless i give the beast its due. so buckle up boys and girls, i can promise it will be a bumpy ride but i'd like to think we'll all emerge on the other side a little older and a little wiser and not too much worse for wear. someone might die, i should probably mention now, just to get it out in the open. but you know, omelets and eggs and such. anyway

Mid-South Outlet
3432 Summer Ave
Memphis, TN 38122
(901) 327-4321

9-7 m-sat
sun cl

specials: none to speak of, the D.A.V. next door is the really discount-crazy one of this bunch. i don't think the mid-south usually does much in the way of color coded sales or half-off days, although it's so damn disorienting in there, there might have been a giant sign explaining everything in single clause sentences with exclusively monosyllabic words and i wouldn't have been able to even see it, let alone make sense of it. oh well. the sh*t is cheap, what more do you want. just buy it already.

music: WRVR, 104.5 or some such thing like that. pop hits, some of which stuck in my brain like barbed wire bullets from hell, others bouncing harmlessly off like whatever the opposite of a barbed wire bullet from hell is

thanks for sticking it out, be back within the week with either the adjoining D.A.V. store or the Summer Outlet across the parking lot. looks like that newspaper thing is going to run on the 15th of June, which is a sunday, so it might be kind of a thing, compared to what i was expecting, which was not so much of a thing. we'll have to wait and find out together. take care


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