Thursday, January 7, 2010

Day 95: Too Cold for Business - the Unicorn

I have rarely been so cold. Since mid-December when my husband arrived, England has seen record cold temperatures. Temperatures it usually only sees in January and February, and then for a few days or weeks. I know it's only 25 or 28 degrees Fahrenheit, but without central heating in most places (including my college room), this place is frigid. I am sitting by the heat plate in my room (where a fireplace should be), wearing five layers, and I am still cold.

The last couple of days has blanketed Oxford in snow. Snow that has stuck - nine inches of it. The unprecedented amount of snow has caused many shops and even colleges to close down, including my favorite shopping area in Oxford, the Covered Market.

My favorite experience in doing business in the cold, however, has been at the Unicorn, a second-hand store, or, as they call them here, an op shop (short for opportunity shop - opportunity for what, I don't know). Now I am an expert thrift shopper, if I do say so myself. It's a bit of a hobby, actually. In law school when I needed to relax after a final, I would go to my local Desert Industries (an LDS-run thrift store that creates jobs and cheap wardrobes for the down and out and wonderful memories for people like me who love the thrill of the hunt) and spend three hours buying something like the worthington wool camel vintage suit for $6 that fits me perfectly, the vintage cocktail black dress for $5, the vintage 70s warm cream winter coat that I've worn for 10 years and get comments on about once a week, and the list goes on and on.

Oxford generally has great op shops, but I had heard about the Unicorn from friends. Great stuff, eccentric owner. I had walked by a shop I thought was closed because things were piled so high in the window you couldn't see in, and the place looked abandoned. Wrong. It's delightful. You push your way through the door with only one operable hinge to find three feet (max) of room to move - barely enough to turn around - because stacks of clothes and bags and shoes and coats are bearing down on you. The amazing thing is that the normal-looking woman mending who knows what (she's always mending) knows exactly where everything is, what year it's from, what size it is, whether you can pull it off (she will tell you whether it's too big or, embarrassingly, too small or whether you have the right look for the thing), and the non-negotiable price. It's like nothing I've ever seen.

I sought out this op shop because I am attempting to replace my lovely cream vintage coat for a vintage fur coat. As warm as wool will ever be, fur is warmer. I looked at secondhand fur coats on Portobello Road (of Bedknobs and Broomsticks fame) with my husband, and they were only 300 versus thousands of pounds like the newer fur coats. Here, at Unicorn, they were 30, 50, and 80 pounds. Not bad. Except that this lady would not sell me her coats. The ones that would fit me (she wouldn't sell me coats that were too big) were in the back, and it was too cold to go back there. She told me on a Saturday to come back the next Monday. When I went back on Monday, she said it was still too cold, she couldn't face it. And the woman from Portobello Road was going to come before the cold let up in two weeks, and she paid a good wholesale price for the whole lot. Infuriating!

Her one consolation was to come back in 2-3 weeks when it wasn't so cold. But by then, I don't know if *I'll* be cold enough to pay for a fur coat.

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