DETERMINED TO find the perfect eclectic something - a meat slicer, pink television, or the ugly Christmas sweater - on Black Friday? Try Goodwill.
Tucked inside a Bellmawr industrial park off the Black Horse Pike in Camden County, a subculture of regional shoppers from South Jersey and Philadelphia sift daily through piles of donated goods that fill large bins inside the nonprofit's warehouse. The money, in turn, is used to maintain educational and employment programs for the disabled and disadvantaged.
Thrifting at the Benigno Boulevard outlet is hard-core shoppers digging through unsorted donations sold at 99 cents a pound. Expensive clothing costs pennies, ski boots worth hundreds price at about $10, and designer purses sell for less than a dollar.
"It's for everyone who loves a bargain, and they like the thrill of the hunt," said Michael Shaw, chief operating officer of Goodwill Industries of Southern New Jersey and Philadelphia. "Thirty to 40 percent are treasure-hunting. The rest are professional shoppers."
Similar to the Black Friday opening rush, shopping at the Goodwill outlet has become competitive. About every two hours, shoppers line up with carts in the middle of the store trying to steal a peek at new merchandise wheeled in dozens of large, blue bins covered with tablecloths.
"No running, no pushing or shoving . . . absolutely no aggressive behavior will be tolerated," manager Dawn Monzo warned as shoppers prepared for Tuesday afternoon's unveiling. Dozens waited with nervous anticipation. Many jockeyed for the first shot at shoes. Others wanted toys. Customers crowded clothing bins, quickly scanning brand names and sizes.
The experience is both exciting and scary. Mia Jackson-Ray, 28, of South Philadelphia, said the bin exchanges on the weekends are so intense that she stopped shopping at that time, preferring the less intense weekdays. Earlier this week she searched methodically for 1970s and '80s toys to sell on eBay. About a year ago, Jackson-Ray stopped tutoring students preparing for the LSAT to care for her newborn daughter, Aliza. She can profit between $100 and $200, enough to cover the round-trip $20 Uber fare and toll.
The Sesame Street recorder bus she purchased for about a dollar could sell for $100 in good condition, or $40 if the recorder is broken, she said.
"I make enough to help pay some bills and get my hair and nails done," said Jackson-Ray, who shops at the Goodwill outlet once or twice a week.
Earlier in day, an elderly woman wearing a sweatshirt from the University of Pennsylvania carefully picked through clothing at the same time two friends filled their shopping carts with more unusual finds, such as the head of a baby doll placed on top of a plastic St. Francis statue, a souvenir plate from California, and a creepy, plastic face mold.
Rachel Smith of Pennsauken and Kyle Andracchio of National Park, both 22, bearing numerous tattoos, and dressed in thrift clothing, frequently shop together at the outlet.
Andracchio displayed a set of water speakers he had in his cart "because they look sick," which is a good thing, he said, describing the bubbles and changing colors that emerge when the speakers play music.
Smith, a Pennsauken diner waitress, has an interest in science and grabbed a textbook, General, Organic, and Biological Chemistry. Her interest is also why she has the molecular structure of serotonin tattooed on her arm, she said, lifting the sleeve of her shabby-chic, green button-down sweater that looked like it once belonged to an old man.
On a more personal note, Smith said, she collects photographs of strangers she brings back to life. "They're people and they should not be thrown out," she said. Her scrapbooks, Andracchio added, are filled with poignant portraits, some black-and-white shots from the early 1900s, to modern, colorful vacation glossies. Smith showed a handful she found this week.
Mark Wileczek, 61, of Paulsboro, said he shops Goodwill because he's "thrifty" and a gadget guy. Despite owning three meat slicers, he bought another because "it's a real nice one that tickles my fancy."
Shoppers can find Vera Bradley bags, North Face jackets, or as was the case for one regular, a gold coin that fell from a video case. Monzo and Denise Piliro, another Goodwill manager, recalled the excitement. The customer paid less than 25 cents for the coin he later sold for hundreds.
Normally, those items are auctioned, such as the antique watch that sold for $12,500. At times, families unknowingly donate hidden valuables. Once in the hands of a shopper, it's finders keepers.
Jeremiah Taylor, Goodwill's regional vice president for distribution, said other times families know the value and donate because they support the organization's mission.
The outlet store opened in 2013 and has steadily grown. Regionally, the organization collects 75 million pounds of merchandise a year. The outlet grosses an average of $1.3 million yearly that is returned to the region by employing about 950 Goodwill workers and funding its social programs, Taylor said.
Dori D'Afonso, 27, of Pennsauken, said Goodwill gave her the financial and emotional help she needed to get a high school diploma and start college while working full time as an inventory specialist. It has not been easy. Earlier this year, she got a call from Goodwill when she missed classes. Her younger brother, she explained, unexpectedly fell ill.
"They noticed I wasn't doing the work, and they told me to come back whenever I was ready," said D'Afonso, who wants to become a nurse. Her brother passed away, and she returned to class partly as a distraction from her loss. Her mother is proud of her.