The Dangerous World of Soroptimist Silent Auctions

It seems like most small towns have a thrift shop. It’s a great way for a community to repurpose items that are no longer needed by one person and get them to another.

My love of and lament over today’s thrift stores is well documented in this blog post. However, I have developed a great appreciation for the Soroptimist thrift store in Enterprise. The Soroptimists have retained the notion that the purpose of a thrift shop is to make available clothing, dishes, and other household items for people who don’t have expendable income. Most things in their store are sold for 25 cents. Cents, people! Those are 1970s prices. They’ve been able to maintain this without being pillaged by the EBay crowd, I believe, because Enterprise is so far from Portland or any other metropolis, and because they are only open Monday and Tuesday. And since the wares are donated from the community, there are very few pristine Pendletons coming down the pike.

It’s hit-or-miss, but I’ve found a couple of great items since I moved here. And they’ve cost 25 cents. I don’t even try clothing in the fitting room there—I take it home and, if it’s not right, simply re-donate it! It’s also been great for puppy toys, blankets and towels.

The money the Soroptimists collect is repurposed, just like the goods they sell, in the form of scholarships for local women to attend college.

Occasionally something is donated to the Soroptimist thrift store that is just too nice for even them to sell for 25 cents. Then, it might have a special tag and cost 50 cents, or maybe even a dollar.

Arnel’s vase

This Arnel’s vase from 1975 … 50 cents

And then, to really make some money, they have the silent auction.

Behind the counter are about a dozen lots. Sometimes there is a saddle. Sometimes a set of Pyrex bowls. A fancy vintage hat. Every two weeks they change the line-up, tape the bidding sheets to a post, and open the auction.

One week there was an embroidered Mexican wool blanket. It was incredible: Beautiful. Pristine. I don’t need a blanket, but this was too good to pass up. I walked over to the bidding sheets. A woman had written down $15. That was a pretty high bid for these parts, but a steal for this blanket. I bid $20.

I forgot to take a picture of it, but it was crazy-gorgeous like this!

I forgot to take a picture of it, but it was crazy-gorgeous like this picture I found on the internet!

The following Monday, I popped in to check the sheet. A woman I knew, Pat, had increased the bid to $27! I was torn.

As I cover in great detail in Get Your Pitchfork On!, negotiating small-town politics is tricky, and I’ve found it really, really important not to mess it up. How would it be interpreted if I raised my bid? I told myself it was more important to make peace than get this blanket.

Then I went over and examined the masterful embroidery again. Dang it. I raised my bid to $30.

The auction closes at 2 p.m. and then they call the winners. That afternoon, I didn’t get a call. Oh well, I thought, Pat must have come in before 2 and raised her bid. I’d rather she get the blanket than I create a rift so early in my tenure in Wallowa County.

On Friday, I saw Pat at a literary reading.

“You got the blanket, congratulations,” I said.

Pat looked confused. “No, you did!”

I shook my head. We stared at each other for a minute, then said in unison, “Who got our blanket?!”

I went into the store on Monday and inquired. They told me someone else had come in right before 2 o’clock and bid $35.

Lesson learned: If there is something in the silent auction that I really want, I’m going to have to stand vigil in front of the bidding sheet at 1:50.

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