photos by Anna Vignet

Spring’s around the corner, and that “out with the old, in the with new” itch is creeping up! Besides providing us with inexpensive-but-still-quality alternatives to mainstream consumerism, thrift stores often work to progress their community through social advocacy and funding public services.

Oakland’s got a solid handful of thrift stores that double as community organizations. If you’re like me — too broke to consistently support locally made goods and too cynical to buy into corporate mass production — thrift stores hit that sweet spot where social consciousness meets affordability.

Free Oakland Up | 2809 MacArthur Blvd., open Thursday-Sunday, 12-4 p.m.


The style: Part community art studio, part assortment of household trinkets

The bigger picture: Free Oakland Up promotes sustainable art practices and collaborative learning by providing free and readily accessible art supplies for community members to just drop in and use. The thrift store section of the space offers people the opportunity to take one item, per day, for free. Nothing costs anything — we’re encouraged to consider a Utopian economy based in merit rather than money.


 Uhuru | 3742 Grand Ave., open Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.


The style: Gently used furniture and household items

The bigger picture: Meaning “freedom” in Swahili, Uhuru works to advance education, healthcare and economic development in the global African community — 100 percent of proceeds go to the African People’s Education and Defense Fund. Uhuru’s storefront sponsors their community center in East Oakland, which hosts public events like cooking and boxing classes. They’re very appreciative of volunteers and interns — send the teen activists you know over to their store!


Bambino Thrift Shop | 5290 College Ave., open Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Saturday 12-4 p.m.


The style: Children’s clothes and toys, cookbooks, household items, jewelry

The bigger picture: This thrift shop is entirely volunteer-run, with all of the proceeds going to The Children’s Hospital and Research Center — and they’ve been at their current location for over 20 years! The store itself is very quaint, and you can tell the people who shop there are regulars. Lots of conversation and helpful attitudes.


Urban Furniture | 3241 Grand Ave., open every day, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.


The style: Lots of vinyl and CDs, well-seasoned taste in furniture, and there’s a tiny boutique clothing area

The bigger picture: Urban Furniture is the storefront for Urban University, a nonprofit that provides skill-training and employment to single mothers who are transitioning from welfare. As a year-long program, single moms are hired to work in the store and learn about the retail industry and customer service. Since their establishment in 1998, Urban University has helped transition over 1,700 single moms into the workforce.


Out of the Closet | 238 E 18th St., open every day, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.


The style: Mostly books and clothes, organized in gradients of the rainbow

The bigger picture: Not technically Oakland specific, but this thrift store still deserves a spotlight. Owned and operated by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, 96 percent of their revenue is circulated into global preventative and treatment services, and trained physicians occasionally provide free HIV testing at their locations. Be sure to take advantage of the free condom basket at the register, too. Hooray for safe and healthy sex!

About The Author

Simone writes about the currents circulating beneath mainstream, with a focus on non-profit developments and at-risk youth enrichment. Outside of freelancing for Oakland Local, she works in the foster care system of Contra Costa County and nerds out on literary magazines. Simone also spearheads the Community Voices section of OL. Contact her at

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