Many Americans Are Rediscovering Thrift Shops

Submitted by Dmitri Davydov on Sat, 2008-04-26 09:04.

SHEENA MASSIE, dragged by her mother to garage and estate sales as a child, once cringed at the sight of used goods.

“The very thought of being caught by my peers buying other people’s junk was mortifying,” said Ms. Massie, a 25-year-old waitress in Canal Winchester, Ohio, near Columbus. “If someone else didn’t want it, why would I?”

But, like Ms. Massie, who with her mother is opening a thrift shop, more consumers are concluding that brand new is not necessarily better.

According to the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops, the industry is growing at a rate of 5 percent a year. And as the prices of gasoline and groceries edge higher and debt — be it mortgage or credit card — weighs more heavily, saving money on clothes, shoes and household goods has become increasingly essential for many people.

“With the economy in its current condition, I think people will begin turning to more thrifty ways of shopping,” said Ms. Massie, whose store, Thrift on the Canal, opens next month. “We want everyone that shops with us to enjoy the same thrill we do when we go thrifting.”

The thrift shop association estimates that there are 25,000 such stores in the United States. Britt Beemer, the founder and chief executive of America’s Research Group, a consumer behavior research firm, said surveys have found that 16 to 18 percent of Americans shop in thrift stores, while 12 to 15 percent visit consignment stores.

“Thrift shops are not on the radar screen for many shoppers,” Mr. Beemer said. He predicted that more would turn to them, especially for back-to-school clothing., a two-year-old Web site, is viewed 70,000 times a day, mostly by women age 30 to 50, said Mike Gold, who runs the site with his wife, Julie.

Mr. Gold said he discovered that thrift shop fans are everywhere when he met the auctioneers and experts of “The Antiques Roadshow,” a popular PBS series.

“Every single one of them was an avid thrift shopper,” he said. Ms. Gold added, “One said she even buys her clothes there.”

Kara Lake, a 34-year-old mother in Braintree, Vt., who is home-schooling her five children, ages 8, 7, 6, 3 and 6 months, said she was one of those fans, particularly since a tight budget is normal. She said she grew up in rural Vermont wearing thrift shop clothing and “can count on two hands when I’ve bought something new.”

Because many families have only one or two children, she said, the clothing is only gently used. “We can still give our kids the best things.” Ms. Lake said she easily found clothes with labels like Old Navy, the Gap and Banana Republic. “It doesn’t make any sense to me to buy anything brand new if the clothes are well taken care of.”

She also finds clothes for herself from midpriced labels like Ann Taylor and J. Jill, shopping twice a month and spending, in all, $15 to $20 for an armful of clothing for herself and several of her children.

Consignment shops, which typically have higher prices but offer higher-end or designer merchandise, have their fans as well. Clothing must be washed or dry cleaned before sale, and the selection in such shops tends to be more carefully edited.

Mason Bechtel, a retired administrative assistant for a major financial services firm in Houston, grew up choosing between having several new dresses each season from Loehmann’s, a discount store, or just one from Bonwit Teller. “I realized that shopping at the best shops, I felt stupid,” she said. “Why pay $120 for a dress I could find in a resale shop?”

Ms. Bechtel, whose mother ran a Lilly Pulitzer shop in Westport, Conn., admits to having expensive, if classic taste. “I still wear the same clothes from the same shops — but I usually pay nothing more than $20.”

Thrift and consignment shoppers love getting a bargain. For Ms. Bechtel, it was a $25 Black Watch plaid blazer with a black velvet collar and $25 for a St. John knit suit — new, typically costing four figures.

Julie Gold, a co-owner of, said buying used clothing takes more diligence than simply rifling the racks at a local retailer. “In a thrift store, you really have to dig,” she said. “It takes a lot of time, energy and patience.”

But, thrift shoppers say, the time demanded is repaid with single-digit price tags and a wide variety of styles in one place.

Two national chains, Buffalo Exchange and Crossroads Trading Company, allow shoppers to bring in clothes they no longer want for cash or to trade for clothes in the store. Both promote their fashionable offerings, in an attempt to appeal to younger shoppers. And both offer a combination of new and what they term “recycled” clothes.

“A lot of the neighborhood men who shop in our store are very style-conscious,” said Mary Dalton, the manager of a Crossroads store near the Castro district in San Francisco. “They can recycle their clothing and not wear it into the ground. Sustainable businesses are becoming more trendy, so people are more open to it.”

Prices, she said, range from $6 to $75, and popular jeans like Diesel or G Star cost $50 to $65 a pair compared with a regular retail price that can be double or triple that. “People will get three or four garments for the price of one,” she said. “We get all kinds of customers, from an attorney who needs work clothes to the college-age hipster. The age range is very, very wide.”

Consumers can also make money by selling or donating clothing or household goods to thrift and consignment shops. Donations can offer a tax deduction, while selling items that are worth more than you paid, can make consigning lucrative, Ms. Massie said. “I once found a vintage Carlton Ware money box for $2.50 and made a $45 profit and a pair of Ruehl jeans for $9.99 that I sold for $60. I know of a lady who bought a necklace for $3.50, and it was a diamond over one carat worth over $8,000.

“That’s why I shop in thrift stores.”

[Via - NYTimes.Com

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