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"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Charity shop pecking order for the hopeless bibliomane

If you love books, have a certain amount of spare time, live in or near a major city or conurbation, or anywhere else in the uk if you're sufficiently mobile - there's plenty of fun to be had setting off on charity shop book-hunts.

I don't have to go far to indulge this slightly greedy hobby. I have nine charity shops within a 15 minute walk from where I live, and roughly five times that number within a 15 minute cycle ride.

And every one of these shops has, on at least one occasion, thrown up a treasure.

But, after many years of raiding these treasure troves, I have now, by a sort of alluvial process, come to this   totally arbitrary "pecking order" of the shops I am most likely to visit if time is scarce, or if my mood is low and I need my spirits lifted.

So here we go - my 2014 (Spring) top dozen or so charity shops in South/South West London…
My Number 1 charity shop of 2014 - Save the Children on Clapham High Street, London SW4

Coming in at number one, week after week, is the wonderful Save the Children Shop on Clapham High Street, near the overgorund rail station. A good selection of books, well priced (typically £1.50 for good paperbacks); similar CDs, records and clothes. It's a large, airy, sunny shop – and what really makes it a winner  for me is the in-store music - it's often reggae or ska, it is always loud and upbeat. You just want to dance and dance and buy  and then buy some more.

In second place - after a few recent fruitful visits - is the Oxfam Shop in Gloucester Road. I am almost surprised to say this as I had almost gone off Oxfam. For a long time it seemed to have a policy of pricing all books at £2.99, CDs likewise, and the stories were become too uniform. The specialist bookshops were never as good as they should have been - even the one in Portobello Road has gone downhill (but be aware that things change very fast in this world). The Balham one's a bit barren and the Herne Hill one is fine but pricey and the staff a wee bit snooty. I also felt they were just too much like unfair competition to bona-fide secondhand bookshops.

But this Oxfam in this very posh street is a gem, quite different in feel from most others, with a good balance between clothes, books, music and bric-a-brac. The prices are a bit looser, as well.

Best recent buy: catalogue for the Monet in 20th Century Exhibition, perfect condition, £4
One I wish I had bought and didn't: Brand new Banana Republic cord jacket for £22.

Sharing 3rd place (sorry) - I have to declare an interest here - my alma mater, the Trinity Hospice chain. Visit any of their 20 or so shops as often as you can - bargains can usually be found, though you do have to make repeat visits as they often hold sales and turnover is high. Lovely staff in some of the shops. Best of the bunch: the Bute Street shop, SW7 - of course! Even if I didn't have personal connections there, I would love this shop for its eclecticism, intimacy and its distinct Gallic flavour. Great for cheap French novels. As with Oxfam, Trinity's specialist book and media shop in Kensington
The Trinity Hospice shop in bite Street, SOuth Kensington, London SW7, in 2013.
Church Street is not as good as it used to be; books more expensive here than in the general shops.

At number 4 are the FARA shops in Northcote Road,  Pimlico and Gloucester Road. Stuff in these shops is always so well displayed, and until recently you could be sure of an interesting and fast-changing stock of books, though sadly there has been a bit of a downturn very recently. The Northcote Road branch , in particular, has lost some its charm - the staff no longer seem so friendly either.  But the Gloucester Road  shop is  great fun, I love the basement of books, magazines, records , menswear and curios. A similar retro feel exists in FARA's Pimlico SHop.

Number 5 and 6 - the Oxfam Shops in  the Kings Road, Chelsea, and Warwick Way,  Pimlico. The former was my number one charity shop for many years, from way back in 1990 when I worked nearby. Bang next to Vivienne Westwood's original shop, it was the place to find great clothes at crazy prices. It is still good, always has plenty of great books, but the prices are a bit above the average.

Number 7  - A wild card here - the MIND Shop in Wandsworth Road, SW8, near the overground station. A real old-school charity shop, cheap clothes, and a hugely eclectic range of books, CDs, DVDs, vinyl etc. Old school charity shop, and all the better for it.

Number 8 - the Cancer Research Shop, World's End end of the King's Road. Always nice staff here, and it used to be great for old LPs. Books are cheap, and clothes can be real bargains as well - better now than its neighbouring Oxfam and Trinity shops.

Number 9 Huge and cluttered, the Wandsworth OASIS (HIV charity) shops in Battersea PArk Road have massive selection of everything, books, CDs, DVDs, furniture, the lot. A bit murky, a bit dowdy, rather dim on the lighting front but always good for a long browse, with genuine bargains still very much available to those who persevere. Nice staff too.

Number 10 but sure to rise, I feel  - the big Barnado's Shop in Brixton. Cheap and cheerful which often gets interesting vinyl (see the fast changing display in one of its windows.)

You might notice I have not mentioned  British Heart Foundation shops, even though I have bought plenty of stuff in many of their outlets - Balham, Clapham Junction, etc. But I get annoyed with their highly standardised and over-cluttered shop layouts, their pricing (£2.50 for most paperback novels, too much!) and their policy of having in-store cash collectors.

Likewise Scope, Help the Aged and Octavia Hill shops - they are all OK but just not too good for books, generally. Although, as with any charity shop, you can always get lucky - so take note, and do not heed this advice! As soon a people follow a guide, the quality drops and the prices rise. So it will soon be time for us all to rove farther afield. I'm aware of and slightly daunted by all those cavernous charity shops in South East and North West London. Fresh fields.

SO what are your favourite charity shops? Not just in London, anywhere? Tell me, I want to visit them!

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