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No pity potty as Thrifty Supply is set to close its doors
Thrifty Supply owner Carol Chen (l.) and longtime employee Melvin Prescott get set to close the doors forever Sept. 30. - photo by Jon Waits/jwaitsphoto

In our 17 years together, my dear spouse and I have survived many challenges.

We moved across the country. We entertain vastly different political opinions. We’ve cared for sick parents, sassy children, a diabetic pug and a puppy that eats socks and barfs them up in surprise locations.

There was that time he “accidentally” signed up for Tinder because he “thought it was a camping website,” though it bodes well that neither of our names showed up on the Ashley Madison list.

Marriage is a many bouldered sojourn, for sure. And those who’ve endured know that nothing, nothing, will tax the state of a union more than a bathroom remodel.

Back in July, the leaky shower pan in our Jack-n-Jill finally gave way, revealing a yawning chasm to homeowner Hades.

There was rotted wood to rip out and 70 year-old turquoise and yellow tile to replace, and we figured the rusted beige sink and guzzling ancient toilet might as well go, too.

“Should take about two weeks,” assured the contractor.

We are now on week eight of sharing the hall bathroom with the children. Stress levels are high. I humbly acknowledge my vast privilege in a world where many don’t even have plumbing, but my first world ass is getting real chapped dealing with people who hide my contact lenses and use up all the hot water.

Also, nothing spells chaos like chili enchiladas for four and one potty. Just this morning I mistook our son’s hair goop for toothpaste and had to pee in the backyard with the puppy.

In addition to the crowded conditions, my husband and I have spent several date nights arguing at different hardware supply stores, mostly about toilets.

Like many American shopping experiences, the number of options is overwhelming. Like many American men, my husband wants to examine all of them. I don’t care much as long as it flushes.

Choosing the right commode for our posteriors has been made even more difficult by the fact that most big box stores now display their toilets on the wall instead of the floor. Why, you ask? Apparently there are certain disgusting individuals who can’t see a toilet in public without, *ahem*, taking it for a test drive. Thanks to those jackasses, we’re probably going to end up with some too-tall throne that makes our legs dangle like Edith Ann.

At least this hardware store tour has given me a chance to hang out in Thrifty Supply and Hardware, the 30,000 sq.-foot wonderland on MLK Blvd. that promises “Bargains Galore, All on One Floor.”

And what a practical paradise it is! We didn’t find our perfect privy as I prowled through the inventory, but I did find other intriguing items, including vintage TV trays, a hot pink foot locker and a rainbow of voodoo candles, none of which are useful for the new bathroom but will be enjoyed tremendously in the temporary latrine I’ve set up near the chicken coop.

Thrifty also carries all manner of paint, pipes, power tools and lumber, all at the advertised rock bottom prices. Bittersweetly, the deep discounts have been slashed even further as the iconic shop prepares to close its screen doors for good at the end of the month.

It’s the end of an era for Savannah, especially for Melvin Prescott, who has been manning Thrifty’s plumbing section for 47 years. He was hired as a young man back when Ralph Rich and his brother-in-law Sam Trotz were the bosses on then-West Broad Street, just as the Civil Rights movement began its march.

“I know this place is going to be missed,” drawls Melvin, who can often guess the part a customer needs before they tell him.

“Unlike the big box stores, we can stand here with a customer for 10, 20 minutes, just waiting on them, helping them out.”

It’s a shame to lose another mom-and-pop biz that will never be replaced, but at least this one is going from natural causes.

“It’s time for us to retire,” sighs Carol Chen, who has owned Thrifty Supply with her husband, Tony, for 18 years. Before that, they owned a couple of laundromats in Minnesota; in fact, the couple has been successfully working together since they met at Montana State back in the 60s. I wonder what kind of toilet they have?

The Chens managed to acquire the entire block during their reign and have sold the whole shebang to a couple of Charleston investors smart enough to take advantage of the MLK Blvd. revitalization tax breaks.

So far the plans don’t involve another tacky chain hotel, thank the develpment gods; officials say it will echo the existing footprint with apartments upstairs and retail on the bottom. Let’s hope local businesses snap up those spaces so we don’t end up with the rumored Dave & Busters.

No matter what, the old school charm of Thrifty Supply is going the way of our decrepit post-WWII bathroom, and it does no good to lament the change that’s gonna come. When you’re in it for the long ride—whether we’re talking downtown development or marital mettle—you’ve got to pull the vision out of the dust and keep moving towards the next phase.

As I replace yet another empty toilet paper roll, I keep reminding myself that it’s the transition that’s the hardest.