Treasure hunters converge at the “Pay-Per-Pound” in South Richmond

Posted at 6:55 AM, Jan 24, 2014
and last updated 2014-01-24 10:24:48-05

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - If you’re a seeker of treasure, of experiences, of meeting different folks, you should go the Goodwill Outlet – aka the “pay-per-pound” – at 6301 Midlothian Turnpike.

It is a feast of textures, colors, sounds and languages.

It is likely the most diverse place in metro Richmond. And it’s likely the closest you can come to getting free stuff.

Here’s how it works.

Donated items go to the 28 Goodwill stores in central Virginia and Hampton Roads and are offered for sale for six weeks or so.

“All the items in the stores are on a rotation. And when it goes through its rotation it comes here,” explained Ellen Thornhill, Goodwill marketing and communications manager.

That doesn’t mean the goods are bad. They just weren’t found.

They’re in great shape and frequently name brands.

Often, surprisingly good stuff,  said the “pickers” of many nationalities who buy there to sell on eBay, at flea markets or to send to family members in their homelands.

Clothes are piled in a dozen or so long aisles of big bins – men’s, women’s, children’s all lumped together instead of on hangers.

You save roughly 75 percent from the regular Goodwill store prices - $1.39 per pound for the first 20 pounds of clothes and $1.19 per pound after that. And you can buy a bunch of clothes for a few pounds.

Housewares are sold at 59 cents per pound, and you can find anything from jewelry to antique puzzles, new candles, cooking utensils, toys, school supplies, electronics, you name it – just about anything you can imagine comes through the rows of bins there.

I’ve met folks from all over there: Egypt, Chile, Africa, all over Central America, and Richmond.

And not just poorer folks.

They’re all united by a common hunger:

“Mostly everybody who comes in is looking for some type of treasure,” said outlet manager Janice Bailey. “And here in the outlet they never know what they’re going to find, and that’s why they keep coming back here.”

“It’s fun to try to find a treasure maybe,” said one new customer who found a cartful Wednesday. “Or two. Or three.”

I asked one regular customer if she’s kind of a compulsive picker.

“Oh yes,” she said instantly. “A really bad one. I mean, a good one. But I’ve got it bad.”

There’s a rhythm to picking through all the stuff, a special feel you develop – a sixth sense for the good stuff, I’m told.

The regulars can just feel around in a bin - maybe even just walk by it - and those special items will call out to them. It’s fun to watch.

But the pay-per-pound is best-known for its shoe crush.

Every couple of hours, fresh bins of shoes, boots and sandals are rolled out. At $2 and $3 pair, there can be huge deals. The outlet has had problems with the crush and have a strict process to let as many people have a shot at the same time without crowding each other too much.

Watch the video . . . you’ll see.

The rest of the time, it’s pretty calm at the pay-per-pound. Even when it feels a little cutthroat, there’s a kindness about the place. Even the regular pickers look out for one another.

The vibe at the pay per pound is in keeping with the Goodwill’s mission – to help folks with disabilities and other challenges find and keep meaningful employment.

“There’s never a dull moment,” Bailey said. “Always exciting. A lot of families running around, actually to see the customers actually work with one another . . . to support their families and make a living.”

Click here to find a little more about this experience.