If you enjoy searching for hidden retail gems amid racks of junk and like the sport of finding a crazy deal, then this is a great time of the year.

As I reported in a recent story, Dec. 31 is the day when charitable groups get flooded with last-minute donations, and that creates a wave of new inventory at second-hand stores.

Sometimes, you can go to stores run by Goodwill, the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity and others looking for something particular, but more often it's a treasure hunt.

The thrift stores that sell clothing usually have a good selection for young children, because at that age clothes get outgrown before they're worn out. Dressy, special-occasion clothes for children are often a particularly good deal, such as the blazer from a nice men's shop on King Street that I bought nearly new for $5 at Goodwill.

The fire pit in my backyard was built with bricks I bought at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore shop in Charleston, for a fraction of what I would have paid at a home improvement store.

These second-hand stores can be shopping-as-entertainment, because you never know what you're going to find, and the prices often are all over the board. I've seen things priced higher than what they would cost new, and I've seen things priced ridiculously low.

I don't think I was looking for anything particular when I went to a thrift store in Jacksonville, Fla., with my mother last year, but I came out with a terrific Christmas tree stand, for which I paid $2.99.

So, if you like that sort of thing, right now is about the best time of year to go thrift shopping.

Here are a few tips:

Goodwill, with multiple locations in the Greater Charleston area, primarily sells clothing. The quality ranges from brand new to stained and worn, and unfortunately they organize the clothing by color rather than size.

They also don't wash the clothing, but most people know better than to donate clothes that need washing.

While clothing dominates Goodwill's floor space, you'll typically find an interesting assortment of housewares, toys, furniture, art, books, music and sporting goods. My son has a Godzilla poster acquired at a Goodwill for, I think, a dollar.

The Salvation Army has a few locations in the region. The Dorchester Road store is a jumbled assortment of everything from major appliances to odd bric-a-brac.

One bright spot - hipsters take notice - is a fairly large selection of vinyl record albums, all priced at $1 for LPs and 50 cents for 45s, with volume discounts on top of that.

Beware of the electronics and small appliances, because the store has an as-is/no-returns policy. As a general rule, if it has an electric cord, don't buy it used unless you can either test it first, or at least return the item if it doesn't work.

Considering the eclectic jumble of merchandise, the Salvation Army store is an interesting place to poke around. Items I saw there included a wheelchair, a box of 8-track tapes, and a sturdy full-sized poker table with folding legs, in reasonably good shape for $14.99.

Habitat for Humanity ReStores sell furniture, major appliances and electronics, housewares and building materials. I bought the bricks for my fire pit in the building materials area of the King Street location in Charleston. The East Cooper ReStore was recently selling a large quantity of 4-cup coffeemakers, apparently from a hotel, for $3 each.

The ReStores, with several locations in the Greater Charleston area, often have higher-quality furniture, and prices that might seem surprisingly high. One store recently had a donated couch listed for $495. Like most thrift stores, pricing is pretty subjective.

If you need something simple such as shelves for your workshop or garage, the Charleston ReStore's a pretty good bet.

In addition to the three nonprofit groups with multiple locations, listed above, there are a number of organizations that have one location. Most are affiliated with specific nonprofit groups and charitable causes, such as the Children's Cancer Society Thrift Store and the Animal Helpers ReTAIL Resale store, both on Savannah Highway in West Ashley. Some thrift stores are for-profit businesses, such as the Community Thrift Store on Rivers Avenue in North Charleston.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552.