Entering the Goodwill store in East Bremerton, I began my usual happy-search, walking to the left where there was a long row of tablecloths, table runners and placemats. As I passed by the worker arranging placemats, I said, “Not many folks buying these.” Smiling, she quickly replied, “No one in line for these.”
Don’t ask me why, can’t explain it myself, but from there I went on a three-month exploratory adventure, covering a dozen thrift shops in four different communities (Bremerton, Silverdale, Port Orchard and Belfair). Somewhat ridiculous — placemats, after all — but I put my investigative powers to use by beginning with a search to find one good placemat example to launch from. That was the hard part.
Finally, I just picked out a pretty one. Next day I had five friends over for scrabble. I expressed my dilemma and handed Angela that recently found placemat, pointing out there was a label, “Vera Bradley.” To my surprise, she was impressed, saying, “Great find, probably 1970s.”
“Do you use placemats?” I asked them, and in the next couple of months, asked at least a hundred folks the same question. Turned out, almost everyone uses placemats — then I realized I was asking the question to people over 50 years of age. With the under-50 direction, I found much fewer used them, but the word “everyone” can still be used with occasion or holiday placemats.
I found little purchase consistency. One month, tons of placemats available as far as the eye could see; next month, same thrift shop had very few. Why? Common story. Maybe a lot of reasons, but I’ll say happenstance.
Simple definition for placemat: an arena that holds dishes with the performance of eating, sometimes to protect a table surface, but basically designated ownership of a table area. Think of it as a canvas.