There’s a peculiar sound coming from inside the magenta building at 623 Valencia St.

The muffled crinkling of plastic sanitary gloves accompanies customers as they hurriedly sift through secondhand clothing racks, unusually tidy bookshelves and rows of assorted knick-knacks. Laughter rings out from another corner of the shop, where a group of masked teenage girls unfurl posters to reveal faded images of Gumby and Vincent Van Gogh. The synth pop drawl of Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me with Science” echoes over the speakers as more people line up on the sidewalk outside of Community Thrift, where in-store shopping has resumed for the first time in months.
 
The steel garage door typically intended for moving large donations has been lifted to safely allow customers through. In its place is a seated employee shielded by a clear, glass divider. One by one, she provides each guest with a pump of hand sanitizer, followed by a pair of disposable gloves, and gestures them toward a pile of multicolored shopping baskets, sending them on their way.

The bustle is a relief for this rummager’s paradise, and though business is unusual, the oldest independent thrift store left in San Francisco is doing what it can to survive.

“Things are definitely picking up, but we’re not doing business like we used to,” interim executive director Brian Stump tells me over the phone.

Community Thrift, in the Mission District of San Francisco, opened in 1982 and supports over 200 Bay Area charities.

Community Thrift, in the Mission District of San Francisco, opened in 1982 and supports over 200 Bay Area charities.

Blair Heagerty / SFGATE

The Mission District was once considered a thrifter’s haven, peppered with retro boutiques and resale shops. But circumstances proved challenging for small businesses, even prior to the pandemic. As rents soared, independent retailers simply couldn’t keep up. Secondhand shops in particular have disappeared from the neighborhood in rapid-fire succession: Clothes Contact,