Annie Korzen strolls through the open front door of a duplex condo just north of Carthay Square in Los Angeles, leaving her husband to park their Volvo in the chronically congested neighborhood.
It’s early on a Saturday, and dew still clings to car windshields. This is the time when bargain hunters descend on neighborhoods, rummaging through merchandise set out on front yards, in backyards and garages.
“Estate sales, at least they’re organized. With yard sales they throw everything on the lawn,” Korzen says, adding a hushed confession as she walks upstairs: “Plus, I like looking at the houses.”
For Korzen, 70, Saturday marks the beginning of her weekend shopping expeditions in search of high-end clothing and Bakelite jewelry at prices well below retail and resale. She wears her acquisitive nature with pride, but insists that living a good life shouldn’t come with sticker shock.
Korzen calls herself a frugalista, and she’s sharing her collected prudent wisdom with the growing ranks of the downwardly mobile through her blog and new book, “Bargain Junkie” (Andrew McMeel).
The timing of Korzen’s book couldn’t be better. Frugality is the new black, thanks to the Great Recession, and more Americans than ever are looking for ways to get their favorite brands and products at deeply discounted prices, whether through consignment shops or on eBay.
Rather than teaching her readers to clip coupons or shop at Goodwill, Korzen’s advice focuses on helping people to embrace frugality in all aspects of life without sacrificing.
“I have a lifestyle based on living well and spending little,” she says. “To some people, fashion is wearable art. To me it’s not worth the retail price. I would rather splurge on theater tickets, restaurants and airline upgrades.”
Planning a trip to Rome? Skip the sightseeing-friendly $200-a-night hotel in favor of $80 seaside suburban accommodations and ride the commuter train, she advises. Do you have a skill or service a friend or neighbor needs? Consider bartering. “I heard about a wine dealer who pays for his therapy with fine vintage reds,” she writes. “This may explain why one of my many shrinks was not always quite focused during our sessions.”
Korzen is an actress best known for her time on “Seinfeld” as Doris Klompus, the acerbic wife of Del Boca Vista presidential hopeful Jack Klompus. Her most recent work includes the one-woman show “Yenta Unplugged,” roles on shows like “ER” and “Hannah Montana,” and a small part in “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” playing the mother of Seymour Simmons (John Turturro).
When she’s not acting or working on her new show, tentatively titled “Keep Your Mouth Shut (And Other Things You Can’t Do),” Korzen sells jewelry, as well as vintage and designer clothing, both online and to resale shops. Her Danish-born husband, Benni, an Oscar-winning producer of the film “Babette’s Feast,” has his own Web-based business selling antiquarian or hard-to-find books and collectables, which supplements his income between films.
The couple says their respective side businesses get busier with each passing year.
“In this economy, people have to shop outside of the box,” she says.
The National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops, a trade group that monitors the industry, says that more than half of such stores have experienced a 30 percent increase in the past year. And online auction site eBay reports that listings are up 30 percent over last year.
Korzen, who holds a biannual yard sale, says that a film executive spent $100 on a Prada suit and other outfits at her most recent sale in October.
“I think the economy has changed people’s opinion about shopping used,” she says.
At the estate sale near Carthay Square, clothing is piled on a bare mattress in an upstairs bedroom, and furniture has been emptied of its contents, save for a bookcase with a selection that includes an ArtScroll siddur. Korzen searches the closets for inventory.
“I can tell already this is large-size old lady clothing,” she says, flipping through hangers until she stumbles across a slender vintage dress. She looks at the tag.
“Fifteen is high for me, because I sell them for $20,” she says.
Korzen heads downstairs several minutes later, her arms loaded with dresses. After schmoozing with the estate sale’s organizer and haggling over prices, she walks away with three pieces — one of which is an Escada gown. “It probably retailed for $1,200,” she says, glowing about the find.
What drags the actress and her producer husband out of bed early on a Saturday morning isn’t the lure of money. That’s beside the point.
“It’s the fun of the chase,” she says on the drive to the next sale. “I was buying for myself until I realized I could sell things.”
In her book, Korzen writes that a yard sale was the original inspiration for her own bargainista transformation.
Ten years ago, as the economy was gaining momentum, she was invited to her first Hollywood party after moving to Los Angeles from New York. Korzen wanted something glitzy to wear, and her first instinct was to head to Loehmann’s near the Beverly Center, but she got sidetracked.
“I passed by a yard sale and found this fabulous Lillie Rubin jacket covered in sparkly red sequins and beads. The price was $20, and that’s when I decided I would never buy retail again,” she writes. “I had been bitten by the second-hand bug and have never recovered.”
Not that Korzen grew up in the lap of luxury. The daughter of an immigrant tailor, her childhood was spent in a three-bedroom Bronx railroad apartment.
“My parents were poor. They had to be thrifty,” she says. “My mother frequently reused teabags.”
And Korzen continues to draw on their example at home. She is a compulsive recycler, often printing on both sides of paper.
“If you’re a frugalista, you’re also green,” she says.
At a yard sale that’s just opened off Fairfax Avenue, a young couple is still hauling out boxes as the Korzens walk up.
“I’m cleaning you out,” Korzen tells one of the sellers, a former Betsey Johnson rep, as she digs into a box of bracelets. “I’m like a kid in a candy store here.”
When she is finished, she pays $41 to the seller for a Gaultier and a Celine purse, a Dolce & Gabbana skirt and at least 30 pieces of jewelry, including rings, necklaces, a gold lace choker and bracelets.
“These I’m not going to sell,” she says, running her hand over the bracelets she’s heaped onto her right arm. “I like these.”
For Korzen, who once pined for the comforts of a middle-class life, including shopping at Neiman Marcus and Barneys, the streets of Los Angeles are her department store.
Even if she suddenly became wealthy, Korzen says, she would continue living the same frugal existence.
“I enjoy my lifestyle,” she says. “This isn’t a hardship for me.”
To read Annie Korzen’s blog, visit http://www.thebargainjunkie.com/