Visiting the Unknown: The Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters Thrift Store

I was not entirely sure where to go for this assignment. Originally I was going to go to the Williamsburg Outlet Mall, but that was too far away and almost did not seem fitting for this particular assignment. Though it was merely a blip on my mental map of Williamsburg, it was not something that was a part of the Williamsburg that I visit frequently or something that I walk past everyday but never stop in to browse. So, after forcing a friend to walk around the area with me, I came upon The Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters Thrift Store on Monticello Avenue. I have heard about the thrift store opportunities in Williamsburg, but had only visited the Goodwill, so I was excited to see a similar store only a few yards away.

I have been to the strip mall in which the thrift store is located, but only to visit Nawab, the Indian restaurant that is located on the other side from the thrift store. Walking further away from the part that I knew, it was interesting to compare the type of shops that surrounded the thrift store. While Nawab seems to be a place that is catered to tourists and students with its ornate decorations and service-centered atmosphere, the other stores seemed more catered to locals and seemed more like places that would be found in a typical strip mall. What they all had in common, however, was a run down look that opened into a more welcoming atmosphere. The shabby brick walls of the exterior of the building did not reflected in any way how the buildings looked inside. Nothing was poorly lit or in need of repair. For example, the Big Lots looked like a typical drug store and I actually thought it was a CVS or Walgreens at first. Many of the other businesses appeared to be the same way. Though each store was not as beautifully decorated as Nawab, they still seemed like places where people could frequent on a regular basis and were designed as such.

When I first entered the thrift store, I was struck by the differences between it and the Goodwill. The major difference is that The Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters Thrift Store is much homier looking than its counterpart just a few feet away. First, it is much smaller, but the more cramped space makes it seem more inviting. There are not that many sections of clothing racks, and they are all close together. Also, the lighting did not seem as florescent and sterile which makes it seem more like a typical thrift store that you would find in a hole-in-the-wall strip mall instead of a more chain-like institution like Goodwill. It also reflects the smaller charitable nature of the thrift store. Since it is only present in the Williamsburg area instead of all over the country, it has more of a local feel. The way that the store is set up with its smaller selection and shelves of knickknacks and VHS tapes for sale makes it more approachable for locals looking for cheap clothing. The atmosphere seems like a place where people can be remembered and treated like family instead of a place that is the same all over the country.

I believe that my discomfort with both this thrift store and thrift stores in general stems from my upbringing in an upper-middle-class family. The option of wearing clothing that was not newly bought from a department store at one of the local malls never appealed to me since it was not something anyone in my family did. As a result, I mostly spend time in thrift stores looking at clothing and admiring some pieces, but not ever trying them on or buying them, because the stigma of it being used still sticks with me. Thinking of myself wearing used clothing does not fit with the way that I was brought up and I have always been wary towards thrift stores. This belief is also generated by the fact that I have only been to a thrift store a couple of times and only in the last couple of years. Therefore, I have spent most of my childhood, a very defining period of one’s life, believing that all clothing should be bought new and at a mall or boutique. It was okay for me to donate my used clothing since I no longer needed it and I was taught that it was good to be charitable, but I never thought of the people that would buy it, because I was not one myself. On top of that, I have found that most thrift store clothing is for women much bigger than I am and I have never had the patience to search for something that would actually fit me. As a result, the idea that thrift stores are more for bigger women always kept me from visiting them.

As I went into this thrift store, the comfortable atmosphere that the store provided immediately made me feel less uncomfortable. There were very few people in the store, but those that were there were content to go about their business and did not try to judge us as college students that were out of place in a store that they probably visited on a regular basis. It was fun to go through the clothes and see what kind of brands that they had. I was particularly amused to find an Abercrombie miniskirt that I liked and might have even bought if it had been in my size. I was also pleasantly surprised by some of the shirts and skirts that were more geared toward teenagers and young adults and less toward the older, bigger women to whom thrift store clothing usually caters. However, this type of clothing was in the minority and there was still plenty of larger, frumpier clothing especially in the dress section. Though I was disappointed about this particular fact, I was still pleased and made more comfortable by finding clothing that would fit someone with my body type.

The type of people that I saw shopping in this thrift store were very different from the people that I typically see around Williamsburg. Being a college student with no car, I usually only see people of my own age group, tourists, or the lower-class African Americans that I see on the bus. However, most of the thrift store customers were middle-aged white people that were from the area, though there were a few African Americans as well. This experience reinforced the idea that Williamsburg is a very diverse community, which is something that I easily forget in the College’s isolated environment. In a way, I almost felt like I was at a store in Harrisonburg, where my grandparents live, since the people in the thrift store seemed like people that I see in that community. It was a refreshing feeling being among the locals since I usually am not fortunate enough to be in such an environment. However, their lack of judgement toward my friend and me was helpful in ending any discomfort since there was no need for creating any type of equality that Portelli describes in his article. It felt like being a part of the community and being accepted as members of Williamsburg, not just as college students from out of town.

My only regret with going to The Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters Thrift Store was that I chose to go at a time where very few people were shopping. My friend and I only stopped in for a brief period on Saturday and Sunday afternoon, which is not such a big shopping day. It would have been interesting to see what the thrift store looked like when it was busy as well as the other types of people that make up the thrift store’s clientele. I did not get the opportunity to see any families or younger people visiting the store. This difference would have been interesting since I do not typically see those types of people in a thrift store. Regardless, I still enjoyed my visit to the thrift store and I look forward to using it as a possibly cheaper alternative to the well-known Goodwill.


The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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