About a month ago, I saw a treadle machine at my favorite thrift shop. It was in terrible shape: the head was black with filth and all the silver parts were rusty. The wood veneer on the cabinet was warped and rippled with water damage, and the whole thing had been sloppily painted over with cream-colored paint on the body and black paint sprinkled with glitter for the top. I ached for the noble, purposeful machine it once was, now reduced to a tatty has-been. Then I saw the price tag --$159.
One hundred and fifty-nine dollars!
I called over a clerk. "People buy something like this for two reasons; they want to use it for sewing, or for decoration. As it stands now, this piece is neither useful nor decorative without a lot of work. This machine in good condition might be worth what you're asking, but as it is? You're asking far too much."
She was chewing gum. "I'll let the manager know," she said.
As I walked away, I knew she wasn't going to say anything. I bet they get people saying things like that all the time. I've worked in retail. I'm sure I was coffee break conversation that day, greatly exaggerated to look foolish, duh duh duhhhh.
I saw it sitting there-- sometimes open to show the grimy machine, sometimes closed-- for a few weeks before I tried again. I asked another clerk what happens to the furniture items that don't sell. Sometimes they get donated, sometimes hauled to the dump or recycling center. I saw a bleak future for the treadle.
The day before Christmas, I saw that someone had tied a red ribbon on the spool spindle, and there was a tiny fake potted evergreen tree sitting on the open cabinet lid. Somehow this made me feel even worse about the machine's prospects.
The best I could hope for was a half-price day, when all the tags of a certain color are marked down. But even that would only drop the price to $80-- still far too much. I collared another clerk and asked to speak to the manager of the day. (Yeah, I don't understand how that works, either, but hey, I don't work there, so...) She arrived, and I once again began my pitch about the two reasons, how age plus dirt does not equal value, the amount of work needed to make this thing useful or decorative. She was working hard at looking interested, I'll give her that. "Could I make an offer?" I asked. She shrugged. I handed her my business card. "If no one buys it and it's headed to the dump, I will pay $25. Please call me."
"Yeah, okay." She pocketed my card and I left knowing she was not going to call me. I was just a weird lady who didn't want to pay full price for something.
Sometimes the shop has 99 cent days, when all the tags of a certain color are marked down. It's the last effort to clear them out before they are culled. I wasn't sure if furniture was included in that sale, but I decided that was my opportunity. So I waited and checked and watched for that sale day.
Then about a week ago, I stopped by the thrift shop to see if it was 99¢ day for green tags so I could spring that sorry-looking treadle. This guy comes over after watching me for a minute. "I've seen you here looking at this a couple times now," he says.
"I'm keeping an eye on it," I explain. "I want it, but not at the asking price."
He watches me open up the machine. "How much would you pay?" He asks.
"I think $25 is fair, but that's way less than the tag."
He turns over the tag. $159. "This tag? This tag is wrong." He takes out a sales pad. "That's supposed to say $59." He smiles. "Oh-- and green tags are half off. That makes it $29.50."
"What." I am stunned.
"Shall I write it up?" He winks at me.
"A neat way to start a new year? I agree."
So I brought her home.