50 Cents Per Pound

Auction of secondhand garments. Boise, Idaho circa 1941
©Farm Security Administration / Russell Lee

Farm Security Administration photographer Russell Lee made several trips across Idaho during the 1930s and early 1940s. He took hundreds of images in the Gem state, including stark pictures of grain elevators and migrant labor camps. Hundreds of miles away a young man was surviving the depression era as best he could.

Everett Hendricks came of age during the early years of the Great Depression on a farm in Illinois. Living in the rural setting Hendricks learned how to make things last as well as the value of growing your own food.

Everett Hendricks was my grandfather.

Everett Hendricks

I first came to know my grandfather during family vacations in Santa Cruz, Calif., in the early 1970s. By this time he had long since retired, but he kept himself busy managing a thrift store in the small surfing community. I can still remember him sitting in a wheel chair, as he watched me walk through the store. Occasionally I would pick up an item, usually an old hat, and before I could ask as he would say, “sure you can have it.” It was like being a kid – in a junk store.

From those earlier days in Santa Cruz, I’ve always been fascinated with flea markets, thrift stores, and anything of a vintage era. Since 2008, when the Great Recession began, I’ve looked for a way to show how people were coping with the today’s economic climate and how it compares with the Great Depression. The project “50 Cents Per Pound” explores with a mixture of portraits and still life’s what Americans are buying in today’s used stores.

The Shoppers

I chose to focus this project on the Idaho Youth Ranch Bargain Center in Boise, Idaho. The center, which is located in a large warehouse, was once the home of a beverage company and offers several acres of items. I picked the Bargain Center for a variety of reasons, including location, but also because of their unique business model. Unlike other thrift stores, the Bargain Center charges by the pound for most of their items. The prices start at 50 cents per pound for items up to 20 pounds. From there the price goes down with the more pounds you buy.

What I discovered while producing this project was that people shopping here cross a wide array of today’s economic realities. Most are not downtrodden and destitute. People come to look for their own version of treasures and bargains, while some come to find basic clothing for their children. I imagine these buyers I photographed are not unlike the ones over 80 years ago featured in Russell Lee’s iconic work. They are all looking for something – and at a fair price.

Assorted Items

Farm Security Administration photographer Russell Lee used a large format camera to capture the images on his travels throughout the country. The camera, which was the standard at the time, could weigh as much as 4 lbs., making the act of making pictures that much harder.

The pictures in the gallery below were all taken with an Apple iPhone camera – which seems appropriate for today’s digital world.