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Treasure hunting with the Queen of Frenchys

['Field Notes from Cumberland County with Sara Jewell']
['Field Notes from Cumberland County with Sara Jewell']

Field Notes with Sara Jewell

A couple of months ago, when I overheard Donna Hutchinson talking about stopping at Guy’s Frenchys in Amherst on her way home from visiting her mother in Moncton, I pounced.

“Teach me to do Frenchys,” I told her.

It sounds weird to ask someone to show you how to shop, I know, but although I’ve popped into Frenchys twice, and both times scored an item of clothing I love, they came off the racks against the walls. The bins totally intimidated me; they looked like giant messes.

To help me understand what I was getting into, I asked Donna about her 30-year history with Frenchys as we drove to Amherst for our shopping trip earlier this month.

“I discovered Frenchys when I taught school in Dartmouth,” the retired Gulf Shore resident said. “I would buy a really decent outfit for work then I’d get ink all over it. All of a sudden, I found this shop in Lower Sackville where they were selling second-hand clothes.”

Now as then, Donna considers it “treasure hunting”, saying she doesn’t know what she wants or needs until she sees it.

“Get a basket,” she commanded as we arrived. “One with a handle.”

We went to the very first bin inside the door, filled with scarves and hats, Donna got right in, pushing and pulling scarves out of the tangled pile. I had no idea where to start; I kept grabbing the same scarf but it was wrapped up around other scarves so I couldn’t ever get it loose.

It was the same at the bin of Ladies Long-Sleeved Shirts. To me, it was a mass of shirts tossed in a heap but Donna seemed to know how to move her hands through the pile and pull out interesting pieces. She was efficient, methodical and quick. I kept picking up the three same shirts.

Are any rules to pawing through the bins?

“Be the first on a new dump,” Donna told me. “Don’t grab something out of someone’s hand, and don’t think, ‘I really want that’ if someone is looking at it, or at least, don’t let them know you want it.”

A woman overheard us. “Is this your first time?” she asked me.

Linda, from Sackville, N.B., told us the first time she was in Frenchys, she was elbowed but she doesn’t want me to write that down because that really doesn’t happen at Frenchys.

“You get to meet some very nice people here,” Linda said. “I’ll tell you the bad thing about Frenchys: I buy for everyone I know. My husband says I’m not saving any money.”

Donna chimed in, “I dress skinny girls and babies,” and Linda nodded.

In the end, I managed to get the hang of the bins, and without ever reaching men’s or children’s clothing, my basket overflowed. As I piled my stuff on the counter at the cash, Donna laughed.

“You’re the only person who folded her clothes. Sure sign of a newbie.”

I had a great time, I’ll do it again, but it won’t matter how many bins I paw through at Frenchys looking for treasures, I’ll always be the one folding her clothes before she puts them in her basket.

 

Sara Jewell is a freelance writer who lives near Port Howe. Visit her website at www.sarajewell.ca

 

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