The thrill of finding an incredible vintage dress or designer suit jacket for under $20 is well known to the seasoned op-shopper. Talk to a pro and they can rattle off a list of their best buys quicker than Macklemore can remind you that he looks incredible in your granddad’s hand-me-downs. Melbourne is chock-a-block full of op shops, secondhand emporiums and retro bazaars, but not all are created equal. Some are treasure caves, teeming with unexpected gems, while others have a low stock turnover and a weird seepy smell that’s somewhere between a primary school and a retirement home.
We’ve spent many a weekend flicking through crammed racks on our quest to put together Top of the Ops, our ultimate guide to preloved purchasing in Melbourne. Got a water bottle? Got a wad of cash? Good—time to start poppin’ those tags. Here are Melbourne’s best op shops.
Abbotsford Salvos Stores
81 Victoria Crescent, Abbotsford
This huge warehouse is stuffed to the gills with preloved clothing, furniture, art, records, books and bric-a-brac. Located on a back street behind the excellent Three Bags Full, it’s super well organised with colour-coded merchandising and discounts for concession card holders. The front section is dedicated to clothes, shoes and jewellery while the back room is packed with furniture, crockery and electrical goods. A sneaky alcove houses a superb collection of books, records and DVDs. The staff have tapped into the demand for retro fashion and furniture, so it’s pricier than ye olde op shops of yesteryear. But chances are you’ll still find a bargain here as well as a box set of Buffy. Bonus: if you’re keen for a second round, there’s another Salvos just four blocks away next to North Richmond Station.
33 Albert St, Footscray
Everyone knows about the Savers in Brunswick, but the Savers at Footscray is definitely worth crossing town for. It’s just a short walk from the station and it’s absolutely huge. The range of stock is different to the store in Brunswick—think more ‘Friends’ era fashion than Bill Cosby style sweaters—but still sorted by size as well as by colour. Like all good secondhand megastores, Footscray Savers has a high stock turnover and offers a student discount on Sundays. Because of its location, you’re also surrounded by really good food, and there’s even a little tea and coffee stand within the store if you need a caffeine hit to keep your strength up.
188 Commercial Road, Prahran
Chapel Street is a great destination for op shopping—it has a Salvos, a Sacred Heart and Prahran Mission all within two blocks of each other—but the oft-overlooked Red Cross on Commercial Road is a hidden pot of op shop gold. It’s tiny—mainly clothes and jewellery with a wall display of shoes—but what makes it worth your time is how high quality the stock is. Expect to find a lot of premium designer labels at pretty decent prices, i.e., not dirt-cheap but cheaper than what you’d pay off the rack. The fit-out is gorgeous, with walls adorned with WWII Red Cross posters, and the staff combine their op shop goodwill with boutique-level service.
Brotherhood of St Lawrence
City store, Royal Arcade Basement, off Bourke Street Mall
Didn’t know there was an op shop in the city? Well, now you do. Hidden down a crooked flight of stairs in Royal Arcade sits this super-cheap, super-cheerful little op shop. It mostly stocks clothing, shoes, jewellery and homewares, but there’s also a small-but-mighty selection of books, board games and haberdashery. It’s the closest thing to an ‘old school’ op shop on this list so far with most clothes priced between $4 and $8—not to mention that prices get regularly slashed by 50% to move stock out the door. Psst… there’s also a mini Salvos store opposite Pellegrini's at the top of Bourke Street that’s worth a look-see.
Brotherhood of St Lawrence
Brunswick store, 109 Brunswick Road, Brunswick
This Melbourne op shop is like Narnia for those who have begun to believe they can’t find anything in their wardrobe. It’s got clothing, homewares, furniture, whitegoods, art, records, books… and all the weird knick-knacks that you never knew you needed. It’s the biggest of all the Brotherhood stores and the sofas are helpfully positioned near the book and record collection, where you’ll also find a large array of vintage magazines, including National Geographic and Rolling Stone. There’s a dedicated Hunter Gatherer vintage section near the entrance—once again, some people bemoan the rising prices of retro gear in op shops, but there are plenty of thrifty bargains here if you keep in mind that buried treasure is sometimes quite literally buried.
Sacred Heart Mission
87 Grey Street, Saint Kilda
Maybe it’s because it’s in a ‘posh’ end of town, but this dinky little op shop is always stuffed with high-end labels and designer wares. They’re not as marked-up as you might expect, probably because this op shop is a little off the beaten track. It’s the original incarnation of the Sacred Heart op shop chain, and probably one of the prettiest due to its location in a grand 100-year-old church hall. The lovely staff make visiting a treat and for some odd reason, there are always heaps of hats on display, making it an op shoppers’ dress-up box of dreams.
121 Johnston Street, Collingwood VIC 3066
Just a few blocks down from Smith Street, this compact Vinnies store is an inner-city oasis of recycled calm. Ladies apparel and bric-a-brac are in plentiful supply, and while reasonably well organised, the stock is not as ruthlessly edited as that of more commercial-minded op shops. There’s nearly always a decent selection of boots in the shoe section, one or two $2 sales racks, and heaps of kooky crockery. The books are alphabetised and there are often larger pieces of furniture for sale as well as perfectly operational electrical goods.
South Melbourne Community Chest
202 Bank St, South Melbourne
This south-side gem has tie bins and shirt racks that recall the old dive-and-grab philosophy of op shops. It’s got an eccentric lay-out that isn’t too cramped and load of clothing, toys and household goods to rummage through. There no specialised section for retro goodies, so you will indeed have to rummage, but the prices are super purse-friendly as a result. The bric-a-brac is a highlight of this shop—you can find genuine antique jewellery laid out next to 1950s dressing-table accessories.
Yooralla Carlton Bargain Shop
134-136 Elgin Street, Carlton
The front section of this long-standing op shop institution is dedicated to clothes, accessories and shoes while a back alcove has a jumbly assortment of kitchen bits and bobs, and a split-off side room has stacks and stacks of vintage cookbooks and paperback fiction. If you want to nab a couple of Harlequin novels for under $4, this is where to go. In general, the clothes veer more towards work-wear than party-gear, but the racks are full of surprises and this, of course, is all part of the fun.
North Melbourne Salvos, 19 Errol St, North Melbourne – surprisingly huge, it’s just a hop and a skip from Queen Victoria Markets.
The Secondhand Laneway, 763 Nicholson St, Carlton North – although not strictly an op shop, it houses a lot of garb from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s.
Fitzroy Salvos, 427 Smith Street, Fitzroy – constantly busy, it’s a great place to sniff out a secondhand steal.
Image credit: Oranges and Apples via Pinterest