Ratsy’s, Adored Thrift Store, Moves Uptown

Audrey Rowland

Oberlin’s premier thrift store just moved into downtown. Ratsy’s is now located directly across from The Feve at 27 South Main Street.

Two customers shop at Ratsy's new location on South Main Street. The store moved after the New Year.
Clover Linh Tran
Two customers shop at Ratsy’s new location on South Main Street. The store moved after the New Year.

“I’d been down at the antique store for 10 years,” Ratsy Kemp, who goes only by her first name, said. “When I’d first moved in there, I had met the guy who owns the antique store, Alan Campbell. I had just moved here from California and had decided to live in Oberlin. I bought a house here without knowing anybody, and I was selling clothes on eBay.”

Impressed by her organization, Campbell soon offered her space in his store, and while the old location had its benefits, toward the end of last year Ratsy began to consider moving.

When the business at 27 South Main Street suddenly closed in December, Ratsy seized the opportunity to move closer to the heart of downtown. She said she signed the lease on New Year’s Eve and started moving into the new space on Jan. 1.

Ratsy’s old store had two floors of merchandise that she found difficult to manage, in part because the cash register was located on the ground floor, she said. She recalled having to worry about leaving the cash register downstairs, open to theft, while working upstairs.

The store’s new space is easier to handle, she said, with the added benefit that customers won’t enter the store without the owner present. The smaller space also allows for better customer service organization.

“[At the old store] I’d run things up in the morning or in-between customers, but I couldn’t hang out up there and arrange things as I’d like to,” Ratsy said. “So far it seems a lot easier to manage here, just being able to be in the space where I’m selling things.”

Those “things” are anything from mason jars to typewriters to vintage clothing. Flannel shirts, large sweaters, weird socks and sunglasses are her biggest sellers, Ratsy said.

“I started selling socks with curse words on them in my new location. I mean, I opened two weeks ago, [and] I’ve sold out of all the curse-word socks, so I’ve had to reorder. You would think it would just be college kids that were buying — nope,” she said. “There’s these ladies, like certain middle-aged ladies, maybe schoolteachers; all sorts of people are purchasing them.”

Marketed to “guys, gals and anybody in between,” the store is a staple for Oberlin students. “I bought a really cool jacket from the ’80s that lets me live out all my John Hughes dreams, and it was only $20,” said College first year Claire Abramovitz.

Ratsy sells more than clothes, and College students have a taste for almost everything in her store.

“[I have] a stand mixer that I really like that I got there, like a really oldfashioned one,” said College junior Jacob Roosa. This sentiment is common across campus among those who have visited Ratsy’s.

“My best friend got a really cool pair of cowboy boots there,” said Interim Hillel Director Samia Mansour, OC ’10.

Students also go to find unique gifts for family and friends. “One time I got a postcard there that was from this town that my mom grew up in,” College sophomore Morgan Stein said.

However, Ratsy’s customer base extends far beyond the College.

“There’s also the people in town and people from Cleveland and different areas,” Ratsy said. “I have a couple guys that come over from Japan regularly and stop in.”

Sometimes even the members of visiting bands will drop by.

“I remember once, down at the other store, these kids came in at the end of the day and they were wearing rollerblades. It was a band called CocoRosie, and they were very entertaining. I just asked them to take off the rollerblades. They stayed for like an hour and bought all sorts of fun stuff and were like, ‘Oh my gosh, what a great store.’”

That feeling seems to be common. Ratsy picks out everything that goes in the store and tries to find the most interesting things she can. She wants items that will entertain students as well as residents and visitors, she said.

The store’s success, with customers ranging from college students to construction workers, indicates that this effort has not gone unnoticed.

“I also sell old, dirty work boots, which I think the students like to wear with frilly dresses and things like that, both boys and the girls,” Ratsy said. “But then, I’ve had guys that are building the Inn on the corner come down and buy work overalls and jackets from me because, you know, if you went and bought them new they’d be like a couple hundred dollars, and you can get them here for like $20 or $30.”

Ratsy’s successful run over the past 10 years gives Ratsy high hopes for future successes now that she is closer to the College and downtown Oberlin.