Kansas City is full of vintage and thrift stores. Here are some off-beat shops to explore
Thrifting and secondhand shops can be a bit of a treasure hunt, as well as a wallet- and Earth-friendly practice. In Kansas City and around the region, you can find stores with everything from clothing, books, and housewares to movie props, tools, and vintage audio equipment.
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One of this writer’s earliest school-adjacent memories is of my third grade self begrudgingly loitering a few feet away from my mom in some used clothes-toys-furniture boutique, poking at the tags on the odd-smelling clothes she was hawkishly inspecting. Those that passed muster were to be my school clothes for the year — whether I liked them or not.
Begrudgingly is mild; I loathed the experience and made sure my mom knew.
But, 35-some-odd years later, almost everything in my wardrobe — excluding shoes, socks, and undies — is thrifted. I also have a good number of used tools, appliances, furniture. I’ve sanded and re-stained end tables, have made pants into shorts and have watched many a video explaining how to repair an appliance.
What can’t be repurposed either gets resold or donated. If it’s clothing, I give it the rag or compost treatment. (I compost anything and everything, as long as it actually can break down. On the fabric front, that means no polyester or other synthetics.)
And, to my great pleasure, the Kansas City area is filled with outstanding thrift and consignment stores. And, there’s more great finds than just clothing. Mind you, what follows is a rundown of places that caught my eye. There are so many to choose from!
Have Guns Will Rent Costumes and Props
You read that name right, friends. Jerry and Linda Vest of Have Guns Will Rent Costumes and Props have been amassing their uncategorizable collection of costumes, artifacts, knickknacks, props (including prop guns), memorabilia, taxidermy, and even zombies since time immemorial — aka 1995. But the Vests had been on a path to opening their shop for a while before.
“My wife and I started this business on our kitchen table,” Jerry says.
“I made Confederate uniforms and Yankee uniforms and she would make dresses, and I would go to Civil War reenactments. Then I started renting costumes out of here and I got to the point that — well, it's out of hand,” he says. “I got three buildings full of crap.”
Jerry is as generous and keen to share and talk as his buildings are full, so go with no agenda and you’ll leave with an experience you won’t forget.
Jerry says he loves to make props, and he’s fashioned many weapons, including fencing foils and blunt weapons like clubs and maces. He’s even built a working “sword in the stone,” with a hidden lock to hold the blade in place.
Jerry says pieces of his collection have appeared in numerous movies, and he just rented his prop cop car to a production near Tonganoxie.
Have Guns is one of those cornerstone businesses that has seen wave after wave of change. Somehow, impossibly, it just is. Don’t wait to drop in, especially with Halloween on the horizon.
Head back in time with Harry J. Epstein Co.
If you don’t get enough history and “what’s that?!” at Have Guns, Harry J. Epstein Co. has you covered. This high-quality used-and-new tool and surplus business has seen, and sold, it all. They’ve been in the same warehouse-style building in the downtown garment district since 1933.
Fourth-generation owner Jori Sacken has story after story of surplus lots and closeouts his family has purchased over the years. For a detailed view of what it is they sell these days, start with their website — it does a great job of setting the scene. Know that they cater to the union tradesperson crowd and sell well-loved and well-respected tools, equipment, machine parts, and more, that should last a person’s career.
Much of their tools and equipment comes from closeouts — when a legendary manufacturer shuts down, Harry and Co. may swoop in to buy the remaining stock. Whether you’re looking for a level, sledgehammer, drift pins, spanners, hole cutters, even various kinds of construction-grade tape, chances are good they have it.
As for how the family business started: A massive purchase of horse tack from the U.S. Cavalry around the beginning of the 20th century set things in motion. Why was the cavalry dumping its saddles and other associated gear, you might ask? Newly-developed machine guns made horse-mounted charges more deadly, and a thing of the past. Add in the advent of the automobile, and the horse just wasn't en mode anymore. But Epstein knew it wouldn’t go the way of the dodo — plenty of folks still need proper equipment.
I took home one of their Sherman tank periscopes for my history-loving and gun-collecting dad. Yes, it set off ALL the alarms at the airport, but the periscope and I still made it to Dad (legally, by the way). He was so proud.
Do some good at Do Good Co.
There’s a lot of thrift stores out there with a greater purpose. Goodwill and the Salvation Army are obvious examples, but Do Good Co. is featured here for their unique inventory and mission. This resale boutique showcases hard-to-find garments, and all their proceeds go to support local nonprofits KidsTLC and Wayside Waifs.
KidsTLC started in 1972 as an emergency shelter for abused and neglected children, and has grown into a full-service in- and outpatient youth center. Wayside Waifs is a no-kill and open-timeline animal shelter in southeast Kansas City, and has been in operation since 1944.
As for Do Good Co. itself, the boutique mostly focuses on curated, upscale resale, and you will readily find big-name designers and high fashion on these racks. You won’t get a steal here, but you will get a less-than-brand-new price and the glow that comes from funding two worthy causes in one go.
Take, for example, a Chanel dress recently on Do Good’s constantly changing display wall.
“You don't typically find that at a thrift store,” employee Ronnie Beltmanas says. “You may not be able to buy that item new at full price but, in here, it's a fraction of full retail, and it's going to a good cause.”
Build a house at Habitat ReStore
OK, maybe not an entire house, but you can get a notable percentage of what you need at a Habitat ReStore.
While not a full-on, box-store-sized, mega-construction-trades warehouse, Habitat ReStore usually stocks doors, windows, tile, new and recycled paint, grout and caulk, not to mention furniture.
Brooke Wrisinger, vice president of ReStore for Habitat for Humanity Kansas City, notes some merchandise is recycled, and some of it is brand new.
“Maybe it was mis-tinted, (or) somebody changed their mind,” he says. “We have a vendor that we use to purchase that paint and resell it, keep it out of landfills.”
“You think about the average consumer that goes into a Lowe's or Home Depot, as an example, to buy paint. In a lot of cases they miscalculate, and so they get done with their paint job and then they have this gallon of paint that's maybe even sitting in the basement or whatever. We can now take it in,” Wrisinger says.
Some of the recycled paint sold in ReStore has been cleared of color and is sold as white in various sheens. In other cases, paint can be mixed with different color palettes to bring it to commercial standard. It can then be resold.
ReStore is a Habitat for Humanity endeavor. There are five ReStores in the Kansas City metro, so there’s likely one near you!
Vintage vinyl and gear at Love Garden Sounds
Our next-to-last stop on this Adventure, Love Garden Sounds, is a prime archetype of the used record and CD store. This particular college-town iteration — in business for 33 years — also sells used and lightly refurbished record players, amplifiers, box speakers and more. That sought-after used vinyl just hits better on a classic turntable.
When it comes to buying a record setup, Love Garden Sounds co-owner Kelly Corcoran shoots straight:
“You need to know that most of the gear we've got is vintage gear that requires you to have amplifiers. Your speakers, turntables, CD players, tape decks; they all connect through the amplifiers. So I think one of the things you have to know about vintage gear is it requires multiple components,” she says.
“Turntables can be $50, they can be $400, they can be $1,000. It just depends on the quality of the things — how nice the cartridge is, for instance. The sky's the limit if you really want to spend a lot of money. But from a practical sense, my job is to get somebody in a position where they can say, ‘OK, I can afford this. That actually works. My stuff sounds pretty good.’”
Corcoran and Love Garden are no muss, no fuss. The vibe is perfect, the inventory is pretty much encyclopedic, and that audio gear really can get you thinking about how to take in your tunes.
They’ll take in your music, too, without steering you wrong. The Lawrence Kansas Times recently published a delightful story about finding a hidden gem in a box of records sold to Love Garden.
Note that there are a good number of stores in the Kansas City metro that also offer used audio gear, so if you aren’t up for the drive, check out the following:
- FM Music Vintage Sounds at 206 E 18th Avenue in North Kansas City.
- Josey Records at 1815 McGee Street
- Revolution Records at 1830 Locust Street
The sort-of newly minted Junkytown
It seems appropriate to end with a shop that A. has a little of everything and B. is still pretty new — Junkytown in Lawrence is less than a year old (they opened November 2022) and offers a delightfully curated collection of knicknacks, toys, clothes, artwork, even luggage and furniture.
Junkytown co-owners Suzie Johannes and husband Hank Peltzer are so into collecting that, when they moved into their current house in Lawrence 13 years ago, a neighborhood kid walked into it and asked if they were opening an antique store.
“Growing up, my mother had a small retail store in my hometown, Hiawatha,” Johannes recalls. “It was called Alligator, and she sold foreign imports. I grew up standing on a crate so I could reach the old-fashioned register and ring up customers, counting back their change.”
Johannes and Peltzer only sell items that speak to them.
“I really love vintage holiday decorations, especially Christmas and Halloween,” Johannes says. “I also love linens, quilts, and handmade items. Then, there’s kitsch… Maybe my problem is that I love it all.”
Junkytown’s hours are limited — Friday and Saturday, 10-6 — because Peltzer and Johannes both have day jobs. But, the shop is their dream, so they’re doing their best to make it work.
The shop’s Halloween and Christmas offerings are presently large and in charge, but so are a wide array of any-season items. Drop in for some last-minute decor, truly unique holiday gifts, or for the unexpected tchotchke.