Free & Cheap: March 2009 Archives

Students find treasures at the Brown Elephant

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The Brown Elephant is not your grandmother's thrift store. Located in the heart of Boystown, the shop sells everything from flower-printed ottomans to picture-frames and leather jackets. Their best items walk a fine line between shabby and chic, and would be absolute gems to find in any consignment outpost. But the Brown Elephant is consigning with a conscience--its proceeds go directly to the Howard Brown Health Center, the Midwest's largest healthcare provider dedicated to the LGBT community.

This social consciousness makes the Brown Elephant exactly the kind of place I want to shop, and the same should be said for other students looking for apartment furniture on the cheap or a fun place to hang out north of Hyde Park, too.

I forgot to bring my wallet with me last month when I volunteered to reorganize the store--an enormous warehouse bursting from ceiling to floor with sofas, trinkets, books and clothes--but you can bet I'm going back soon for one of the colorful (and cheap!) necklaces hanging at the check-out counter. 

Bradan Litzinger came to the store with me, and other members of our community service group, but he first visited the Brown Elephant in the Fall, looking for a Halloween costume. He was dressing as Jake Blues of the Blues Bros, and needed an inexpensive black tie and suit coat.

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    Bradan (right) and a friend pose in Blues Bros. costumes from the Brown Elephant thrift store

"It really wasn't that difficult to find those clothes," Bradan said, "but the Brown Elephant really has things that you wouldn't get anywhere else. I got a Yoda poster that was framed; it was pretty awesome. I go there when I want something that's a little bit unusual."

Of course, Bradan said it didn't hurt that the store was raising money for a great cause. The Howard Brown Health Center has been offering its services to Chicago's Gay, Lesbian, Bi and Transgender community since 1974. Now, they offer free, anonymous STD and HIV screenings, primary care services and substance abuse programs to more than 28,000 adults and youth each year.

Spending just a couple of dollars here can provide someone with a free flu shot or safe-sex kit. Maybe I don't need a cookbook dedicated to pizza recipes (my dorm room kitchen just isn't equipped), but I can't think of many better reasons to spend a little extra when my budget is tight.

Click here to read about the Center's interesting history, and founders--the Chicago Gay Medical Student's Association:

The Brown Elephant has three locations: Lakeview (3651 N. Halsted), Andersonville (5405 N. Clark), and Oak Park (217 Harrison). I took a bus to the one in Lakeview, and rode the red line home.

Where do you go for cool, thrift-store finds in Chicago?