Fifth Street

December 17, 2020

In this issue: Treasures at the Thrift Store | Recreation vs. Big Solar | Media Sommelier


ONCE UPON a time, thrift stores were the place to shop if you were on a tight budget or just a really patient and discerning hipster. Today, thrift stores are part of the mainstream retail menu, falling somewhere among discount outlets and vintage stores. And, like every other business in the 21st century, thrift stores know that an online presence is crucial to success. Goodwill’s auction sales site, shopgoodwill.com, launched in 1999. It features the cream of the Goodwill crop — jewelry, luxury brands, rare items, and antiques.

Goodwill of Southern Nevada joined the site in 2017 and began listing items for auction. With the pandemic fueling a surge in online shopping, their web business has surged as well. Consider: for the month of November 2017, the Southern Nevada hub of shopgoodwill.com took in $41,000; In November 2020, it generated $190,000. From a warehouse near Dean Martin Drive and the 215, Goodwill E-Commerce Manager Yesenia Sandoval oversees the selection, authentication, and online sales of donated items from Las Vegas. Sandoval chatted with Fifth Street about the improbable treasures that have come her way.

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How does a donation to a Las Vegas Goodwill store find its way to the auction site?
It all starts with a donation. We have 16 stores where we accept donations. At those stores, we have people who start going through donations, and they set aside everything they deem to have e-commerce potential — jewelry is a perfect example. They will then send along all those items they deem to have e-commerce value. At our location, we have a person assigned for inventory control. So, her job here is to go through the items and make sure that they have the potential to be listed.

How do employees at the stores determine what has potential? Are they trained on what to look out for?
We do a little bit of everything to educate them. For example, we’ll go through our highest-priced items that have sold on shopgoodwill.com, and then we provide the stores with pictures and notes on brand recognition, so they start building awareness there. We also pay visits to the stores on a weekly basis. So, every Tuesday, we go to a different store and work with the team members there to create awareness of the brands and products. Ultimately, our main goal is let them see and feel (authentic items). There’s a lot of stuff you recognize right away by brand name, but we preach to team members that if it looks interesting, if it feels like a quality item, send it in! Is it unique? Does it grab your attention? Is it something you’d want to get your hands on? Send it in!

Are there tests in which employees have to correctly determine whether an item is worthy for the auction site?
There are. We’ll compile items and then we’ll say, for instance, “We have four purses of different brands. Which of these brands will you send?” It’s kind of like a multiple-choice test. And, say, of those four, we’ll have some brands with similar names. So, a good example would be Moschino (an Italian luxury brand), and then there’s a brand for Target called Mossimo. A lot of times people get those two confused.

When items from stores reach us, we do a lot of research here, too. We use a third-party company for that, called Authenticate First, and for other items, there’s information that we have within Goodwill about serial numbers and other information for purses and things like that. For our jewelry items, we do the testing here, with the acids and the scratching stones. It’s the same thing for precious metals and precious stones -- we have testers that we use to determine their value.

What’s one of the most expensive items you’ve sold on the website?
At the end of 2019, we had a Hasselblad film camera, a very cool-looking antique camera, which we sold for $4,654. That was one of those scenarios where the associate who headed up the store came across it, and they asked if we had any feedback on it. We researched it and we came across one that had sold for quite a lot of money. So we’re like, “Okay, send that in, and we’ll give it a try.”

What are some unusual items you’ve come across?
I have a story of some pictures we received in 2018, a very unique situation. These were some antique photos that were bunched up in an envelope. They weren’t framed or anything, there was nothing special about them other than we just liked the way the people were dressed. They looked pretty unique, like they were from the early 1900s. We put the photos on the website, and we got a lot of messages from people asking if we knew any history behind the photos. One of the messages was from someone who said they were the neighbor of a woman who claimed to be a relative of the people in the photographs. She ended up bidding on those pictures, and then sent us the information on the family to have the pictures shipped to them. We later received a thank-you letter from the family for helping them retrieve those lost memories.

I’ve heard that one of the perks of working at a thrift store is you get “first dibs” on stuff that comes in. Is that true?
That’s a big ol’ lie! Our customers come first. As a matter of fact, we have policies on that. We’re more than welcome to shop from any other city’s shopgoodwill.com site, but not our particular Las Vegas site. We want to make sure that our customers get first dibs.

Do you ever come across an item and you’re like, “I love this thing! I wish the rules were different!”
Every day! (Laughs) In that way, it’s hard for me to work sometimes, but I enjoy it. I touch it, I feel it, and it’s almost like it was mine. But I’ll let someone else spend their money on it. My husband would probably thank me for that, too.

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LISA CHILDS IS surprisingly cheery, despite it being 45 degrees and overcast in Moapa Valley on the Saturday morning when her protest was held. “A big reason people like to come here is for the weather,” she says, laughing. “Not that you’d know it today, but our average temperatures are in the 60s and 70s."

Childs sports a heavy hoodie that matches her graphite-colored page boy. She’s standing near the southeastern edge of Mormon Mesa, outside Overton, Nevada. Behind her is a row of a half-dozen off-highway vehicles whose drivers hoist “Not Here!” and “NO SOLAR” signs — messages of the movement Childs leads. Called Save Our Mesa, it’s a small-town group taking on big-time solar, hoping to kill an industrial-scale development that would cover their favorite recreational spot with photovoltaic panels.

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The project in question is Battle Born Solar. Glendale, California-based developer Arevia Power — which earlier this year got approval to build the 690-megawatt Gemini Solar Project across Interstate 15 from the Moapa Paiute reservation — has asked the Bureau of Land Management and Public Utilities Commission of Nevada to put an 850-megawatt, 9,180-acre solar electric generating facility on Mormon Mesa, “45 minutes northeast of Las Vegas in rural Clark County,” as the application puts it.

Trouble is, there’s already somebody in that rural area: Childs and company. They camp, hike, and ride their OHVs often on the high desert plateau. “The views from this mesa are just spectacular,” she says. “And there’s something special about the feel, almost to a spiritual level, that people really love coming out here (for). There could be 50 people on this mesa at one time, and you’d feel like you’re the only one up here.”

That’s especially surprising since it’s not exactly the middle of nowhere. Though the mesa itself is mostly unoccupied by humans, you could practically hit the town of Overton with a rock thrown from where Childs’ protest took place. Just beyond Overton, to the west, Valley of Fire State Park is within view. And a short drive to the east toward the Virgin River (followed by a couple miles’ walk to the north, according to my editor) takes visitors to the site of Michael Heizer’s land art installation, Double Negative.

The history of the Western U.S. is filled with stories of rural folk taking on natural resource extractors. The standard paradigm, however, is environmentalists versus fossil fuel or mining companies. In this case, it’s recreationists and tourism boosters against a solar developer. Despite there being Desert Tortoises, Gila monsters, and other wildlife on the mesa — along with their habitat — the environmentalist have mostly kept quiet on Battle Born's proposal so far, possibly because they believe replacing fossil fuel energy sources with renewable ones is a net benefit in the race to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reverse the negative effects of climate change. (Childs says she has been contacted by several groups that have expressed support for her efforts.)

“When it comes to the tortoise, they say, ‘Well, we’ll just move the tortoise,’” says Childs (pictured, second from left). “Okay, this is a human impact. They can’t move all of us. … They’ve never put a large-scale solar farm next to a community. We have to stop this, or a precedent will be set, and rural communities are just not going to be protected.”

I couldn’t fully verify Childs’ claim about proximity, but there is at least one other, albeit smaller, solar project that would be closer: a proposed 30-megawatt facility in New Hampshire 290 feet from the nearest dwelling. By Childs’ measure, Battle Born would lie approximately 8,000 feet from the edge of Overton. She and Save Our Mesa’s 1,400 other members are concerned about having an industrial power plant so close to their homes. They’d like to see serious scientific study done on the potential health effects caused by fugitive dust stirred up during the power plant’s construction and operation, and of the potential rise in ambient temperature caused by hundreds of thousands of solar panels, which they think could affect farming and ranching in the area.

But mostly, they fear a loss of tourism revenue. “Our community was hard-hit when lake levels (at Lake Mead National Recreation Area) went down and our local marinas closed,” says Vanette Christensen, president of the Moapa Valley Chamber of Commerce, which encompasses Glendale, Logandale, Moapa, and Overton. “So, we have worked diligently the last eight years to build up commerce through people who come and visit, utilize the trail systems, have off-road experiences — horse people, trail riders, road races — all kinds of things that draw people to what we have.”

Christensen and others at the event stressed that locals are good caretakers of the land, organizing cleanups and staying on trails so as not to disturb the natural beauty. Childs estimates that closing the 60,000-acre portion of Mormon Mesa south of I15 that recreationists use would diminish tourism by 40 percent, putting a big dent in the local economy. Although the project itself would only occupy 9,180 acres, the entire Battle Born lease area is 24,000 acres the middle of that 60,000-acre section.

Ricardo Graf, the managing partner of Arevia Solar, is scheduled to talk to me after deadline for this story (I’ll keep you posted). At public meetings with the Moapa Valley townships in October, he stressed that the project would create some 1,200 jobs and make a $350-million positive economic impact on the area, claims that Childs and Christensen don’t buy.

“I’m not going to just call them … a liar,” Childs says. “But there were questions that were asked that they couldn’t answer.”

There will be further opportunities for her to repeat these questions, as the Battle Born application is in its early stages. Childs has contacted all her elected officials and asked for help; one of them, Assemblywoman Annie Black, showed up to the protest to hear her constituents’ concerns. Childs has written to the BLM, whose response indicates they’re taking her seriously. And she says she’ll keep making all the trouble she can until someone listens. 

It may take more than that for her to win, though, if recent events are any indication. There are several massive solar projects in the offing. Gemini, Arevia’s other massive project, was approved in May. And Governor Sisolak has asked the Trump administration to fast-track Battle Born, the Moapa Valley Progress reported.

Saudi Arabia of solar, indeed.

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1. I'M NOT SURE what it says about the moral substance of my character that I meticulously plan out exactly how I intend to be an irredeemably lazy sloth during the holidays — does such deliberation mean I’m actually not that slothy or that I am in fact extra-slothy, perhaps even meta-slothy? — but I’ve always found that, ironically, if I don’t map out my unstructured lazy time, I’ll spend it like so many of us do, idly rage-refreshing 37 browser tabs while having vein-popping imaginary debates in my head with Facebook friends I haven’t seen in person since high school. Thus, I plan. Part of my plan is to check out the Apple TV+ series Ted Lasso, based solely on this piece by Maureen Ryan in Vanity Fair. Waitwaitwait, I know, I know, I feel you, at first glance it merely looks like a milquetoasty fish-outta-water nyukfest about an endearingly doofy white guy from Kansas who winds up coaching a soccer team in London. But, Ryan argues, the show’s deft handling of its emotional dynamics point to novel, constructive versions of manhood and masculinity — freshly relevant in a world where the current received model of manliness seems to entail shoutily owning the libs on Twitter with dank memes about socialism. Ryan writes that Ted Lasso is “a sprightly, well-constructed, enjoyable comedy about sports, sure, but it’s also about men who … take responsibility for the example they set, for their emotions and for the actions they take.” I generally find sus any facile proposition that merely not being a toxic ogre = a model of wokey goodness, but, hey, if we can baby-step into 2021 with a few extra molecules of civility, I’m down.

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2. Also gonna read some of these Most Totally Metal Books of 2020. Ring Shout by P Djeli Clark looks especially promising! At Literary Hub, Keaton Patterson writes that this “historical anti-racist revenge fantasy” is about Black freedom fighters waging a war against the KKK, whose robed minions are … literal monsters! Patterson: “There is also a fiery demon-slaying sword enchanted with the vengeful souls of dead slaves.” Sold! Like a true headbang connoisseur, Patterson also includes metal album pairing suggestions. *kisses fingers!*

2a. And while you're over at Lithub, you probably can’t go wrong with buying one of these fine-looking books based solely on the cover.

2b. And, finally, also on my list: The Queen's Gambit. I feel trenchantly remiss for sleeping on this runaway Netflix hit about unlikely chess prodigy Beth Harmon, given that I'm a fervent wood-pusher myself. (Wanna play some swashbuckling, deliciously unsound and reckless blitz? Hit me up on Lichess!) Over at Slate, Wei Ji Ma addresses the elephant in the room: "The Real Reason All the Top Chess Players Are Men" It's a rigorous investigation that considers statistics, stereotypes, systemic sexism, and other factors to reach this endgame position, so to speak: "The fact that top male players are consistently ranked higher than top female players may have nothing to do with talent, and everything to do with statistics and external factors," Wei Ji Ma writes.

3. Libertarianism: What is it? A serious model of true individualism? A cranky mood masquerading as a political philosophy? Capitalism without airbags? Margaritaville as dreamed by Peter Thiel? I still don’t know, but this Vox interview with author Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling sheds some light on the pitfalls of attempting to put any highly theoretical political system to work in the real world. Hongoltz-Hetling recounts the story of Grafton, New Hampshire, which an organized group of libertarians targeted for colonization in 2004 in hopes of creating a superfree Ayn Randian bro-topia. As you might guess, it wasn’t long before plans for paradise trainwrecked into reality, comically culminating in a realization that, oops, black bears love the scent of FREEDOM too! Hongoltz-Hetling says, “It turns out that if you have a bunch of people living in the woods in nontraditional living situations, each of which is managing food in their own way and their waste streams in their own way, then you’re essentially teaching the bears in the region that every human habitation is like a puzzle that has to be solved in order to unlock its caloric payload.” The freedom-seekers also defunded road services, libraries, fire services, and the police (singular!): “(The officer) had to stand up at town meeting and tell people that he couldn’t put his cruiser on the road for a period of weeks because he didn’t have money to repair it and make it a safe vehicle,” Hongoltz-Hetling recalls. Way to checkmate those socialist snowflakes! Andrew Kiraly

4. Oh, and this. This screen capture from the front page of the Review-Journal website on Dec. 14 really says everything about everything right now:

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Photos and art: Yesenia Sandoval by Christopher Smith; Mormon Mesa by Heidi Kyser

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