There are no price tags, department sections, return policies or permanent stock. Customers wear gloves to protect themselves from broken glass and sharp metal edges. Brand-new Audis park next to bicycles with rigged carryall baskets. Orange-vested employees constantly walk around picking up merchandise that customers just throw on the floor.
The things that people don't want go to Goodwill. If Goodwill doesn't want the merchandise, it gets one last chance: Goodwill Outlet World.
"What doesn't sell at all the retail stores gets put in boxes — clothes, hardware, metal — and sent here," says Gary Brott, the assistant store manager at the Goodwill Outlet World in Englewood, one of the three Goodwill Outlet Worlds in Denver. "Nothing goes to waste here. We hate to throw stuff away."
The outlet is a giant warehouse with almost 60 bins. These blue plastic bins are about 5 feet wide and 8 feet long — roughly the size of a car. Employees rotate new product in and old stuff out every 15 to 20 minutes.
Bins are filled with just about anything. Sometimes books, clothes or DVDs get their own individual bins, but it is largely random. One bin was filled with plastic balls, a Brita filter, a footstool, a throw pillow, a painting, an empty cardboard box, soap, Halloween decorations, a coffee mug, unused flip flops and a purse. Shoppers open up every purse, piggy bank and book because there are stories of people finding diamond rings and $100 bills inside. Gold and silver jewelry comes in sometimes, however, expensive stuff gets auctioned off instead of getting the blue bin treatment.
One of the many unique things about the outlet is that instead of paying for each item individually with a set price, shoppers pay by the pound. Regular goods cost 99 cents a pound, while glass is 59 cents a pound. VHS tapes, CDs, DVDs and books sell for 49 cents. Anything more than 5 pounds is valued at a price by an employee's guess. A big rug may be $2 to $5. A couch was priced at $12.99.
"Some people do clothes shopping for their kids. They can get some of the same stuff for $20 here as they could for $100 at the store," says Brott.
Customers wander through the aisles, but when a new row of bins comes out, the outlet truly comes alive. The etiquette is for customers to stand with hands behind their back while they gather around where the big blue bin will go. When the bins are ready and in place, an employee shouts, "Shop!" That's when fingers, goods and sometimes tempers fly.
Cynthia Garcia, a cashier for a little more than a year, laughs and says the hardest part of her job is "when customers go out of control and angry for no reason." She has seen fights and screaming matches for items.
"I personally say, 'We're all here to do good. There's no reason to push or pull,'" Brott says. "Most people know the rules. We want everyone to get a chance to get something."
Not all customers are shopping for themselves. Some come in to buy items at the incredibly low prices with hopes of reselling elsewhere.
"The people that come in here are very diverse. A lot of people are searching for different things," Brott says. "They sell at flea markets, online stores or eBay."
In a bin full of books, people with UPC scanners look for valuable texts to sell. Others sell old toys, shoes, scrap metal, clothes, sports jerseys and bicycles.
Outlet employees do not seem bothered by customers reselling the thrift store items. "It makes me feel good about it," Garcia says. "They're doing their own business. They'll sell some of it, and half of it they'll keep. They'll give it to family. There are stores in Africa and Mexico. They sell their stuff on eBay, Craigslist and actual stores."
John Litchkowski of Denver has been shopping here for two years. "I started off with old vintage toys," he says. "It's expanded to just about anything. Old video games are the easiest."
He sells on eBay or Craigslist if it's something big. "The best thing I've sold: Sonos speakers." He sold them for $1,100 after he paid only $3.99.
Amy from Denver, who did not give her last name, usually sells toys. She says she finds all types of stuffed animals. Her most profitable item was a Curta calculator. "It's a calculator made by a guy in a Nazi prison camp. I didn't know what it was, but somebody else did. I sold it for $842 and paid 84 cents for it."
While there are all types of goods running around, one thing that is difficult to find is shopping carts.
When a shopper complained about people hoarding carts, Brott told her, "There may be three or four carts over there, but there may be three or four people in the company. We're trying to get more carts. It's difficult because sometimes people take them."
In one corner, a lady held three carts and a laundry basket in her area. One for collecting and shopping, one for organizing, and one cart plus the basket for storing her goods.
As for strange products, Brott nods and says, "There's not that much I haven't seen. It would boggle your mind. Ammunition. Weapons. We're very conscious about what we sell. We don't sell anything that shoots." Brott also mentioned they do not sell chemicals or weapons of any kind.
When Garcia was asked what she sees the most here, she laughs and says, "Everything." When asked about the weirdest thing, she laughs again and says, "Leftovers of food. It was so slimy and gross."
That is not even the beginning of the wacky finds at the outlet.
Litchkowski says he's seen dentures and a gothed-out doll, but the oddest thing he's seen was "a real human skeleton. It had markings on it and everything. They must have used it in a school. Somebody bought it and sold it for a lot of money. People buy that kind of stuff."
A friend of Litchkowski's walked by and added, "There are a lot of voodoo dolls with the pins stuck in them, too." Once, there was a funeral urn at the Aurora outlet. "Somebody opened it, and the ashes went everywhere. People freaked out."
"Those urns are worth a lot of money though," Litchkowski says. "But I think you find more weird people than things."
When asked if there is a nickname for the shoppers here, a few regulars laughed and began listing them off: scummers, vultures, diggers, piranhas and a few unprintable words.
"All customers say, 'Why do you work here?'" Garcia says with a smile. "It's new every day. I learn something every day. It's crazy, but I like my job."