Thrifty revival: More shoppers look for deals at resale stores
“Aren’t these cute?” Lori Meyer of Grand Junction asks, hoisting up a pair of black high-heeled boots. “And for a buck!”
With several tops draped over her arm, Meyer was enjoying a bit of retail therapy earlier this week while weaving through the racks at her favorite store, Fashion Junkie, 710 N. First St. in Grand Junction. The secondhand store’s combination of low prices, fresh styles and name brands means Meyer shops with less guilt. It mattered little to her that someone else had first worn many of the clothes featured in the store.
Moving on to other displays, all of which are organized by color and size, Meyer locked onto a brand-new purple sweater, dressy enough to be paired with a suit. Its original price was listed as $49. It could be hers for $5.90.
“That’s what I like about this place,” she said while pressing the sweater’s fibers through her fingers. “I can find brand names at cheap prices.”
For many Americans, buying new products has become less important than finding goods at reasonable prices. While a floundering economy has taken its toll, limiting discretionary spending for many, people are seeking items through consignment shops, nonprofit thrift stores and other resale outlets, said Adele Meyer, executive director of the industry group The Association of Resale Professionals.
“I think the stigma in resale has long been gone, at least 20 years ago,” Meyer said. “I remember people telling me they would hide in a fitting room if they saw someone else they knew in a (secondhand) store. That’s not true anymore. People are proud to be saving money, so they can save for more important things like vacations and their children’s education.”
According to a survey of 333 stores that are group members, more than 80 percent experienced an increase in new customers, and more than 69 percent said they experienced an increase in volume of items that were coming into the store. Increases of sales jumped by about 35 percent. The survey compared third-quarter sales in 2009 to the same time period in 2008, the study said.
A focus on recycling items both by donors and buyers is contributing to the push. Buyers also say they appreciate spending their dollar at a nonprofit-based store that funnels money back to the community’s neediest people.
Shoppers also are drawn to stores with large, uncluttered layouts, a growing trend among some nonprofit stores. In the past few years, two large nonprofit secondhand stores, Habitat for Humanity’s Restore and Goodwill Industries, have opened large, brightly lit showrooms attracting an influx of shoppers.
The Restore, which sells used (and sometimes new) donated building materials and home furnishings at 2936 North Ave., recently upgraded to a building with more than 15,000 square feet. It was a major improvement from Habitat for Humanity’s substantially smaller retail space off Pitkin Avenue.
The Restore includes a back room for sorting materials and touts high ceilings, a bright interior, two loading areas, offices for staff and a sprawling layout for customers to search for goods. Habitat for Humanity raises money to work with future homeowners on building homes.
Even in the down economy, sales are on par with last year, Executive Director Amy Rogers said.
“Everybody loved the treasure hunt at Pitkin, but this has that feel of well-placed merchandise,” she said. “People can take their time and look through stuff.”
Goodwill Industries at 630 24 1/2 Road now boasts more than 30,000 square feet of space.
Shiny floors and well-kept displays offer customers reasonable prices on goods. A drive-through allows donors to easily drop off items. The organization uses the retail operation as a training ground for vocational rehabilitation for employees.
Capt. Dan Wilson of The Salvation Army in Grand Junction sees the larger retail spaces as the wave of the future for nonprofit thrift stores.
The organization lost $18,000 in revenue in the past few years through its thrift store operations after Goodwill and Habitat’s Restore opened, he said.
A new 18,600-square-foot Salvation Army thrift store is slated to open in the next month in Montrose and should help regional operations, he said.
Proceeds from thrift stores benefit the agency’s drug and rehabilitation center, the largest of its kind on the Western Slope.
Plans are under way to spruce up The Salvation Army’s location at 1038 Ute Ave. in Grand Junction. Wilson said a large outdoor lot there is a community eyesore, and this store’s location has been the least profitable.
While the agency’s stores offer deep discounts on a wide variety of items, many other needy people are allowed vouchers to obtain items for free.
The Salvation Army’s other Grand Junction location, 1235 N. Fourth St., is in the middle of being converted to a boutique thrift store, Wilson said.
There was a time when manager Amy Tucker of the Fourth Street store would see only rundown cars in the parking lot. The lot now is mostly filled with newer cars, representing a changing demographic in the customers who shop the tidy, quaint shop.
Staff members change decorations in the store’s front window according to season, and a side room this past holiday season was dedicated to Christmas decorations. New items from Target are purchased by the nonprofit at 10 cents on the dollar and resold for at least half off retail prices.
Some folks come just to buy the new items, Tucker said, while others enjoy the process of digging through racks and bins for used items.
“Even if you have a lot of money, it’s always a good idea to shop thrift stores first,” she said.
Jennifer Graham, owner of Dottie’s Home Consignment, 2640 F Road, thinks she and her husband, Rodney, landed in the right business at the right time. The two ran a bridal store and a party-supply store before closing those about a year and a half ago to delve into the consignment market.
Already they have more than 400 consignors, and all sorts of furniture is constantly circulating through. The store works, Jennifer Graham said, because people often find it a hassle to sell their own things, and customers largely are interested in high-quality, unique items at cut-rate prices.
“People are being more conscientious about how they’re spending their money,” she said.
“People who might not have shopped that way before tell us they are intrigued, and it’s not like an image they had before that consignment shops sell used and dirty things.”
Amanda Orr of Loma simply enjoys the treasure hunt. She generally shops the nonprofit Thrift Shop of Fruita, 142 S. Park Square, and her favorite finds include a hanging lamp made of fiberglass and rock and any number of pieces of colored glass.
It’s also where she has scored most of her clothes for her children and kitchenware. Her children find good used clothes “cool,” she said.
“Especially since we live out in the country, and they get dirty a lot,” she said. “Who wants to go spend $50 on an outfit when they’re just going to come home and ruin it?”
Orr said she sees all walks of life at the store, ranging from the young to elderly and “those who just rolled out of bed to people in leather jackets with their hair curled.”
The store, which is dubbed by those in the know as “The Herberger’s of Fruita,” enjoys a solid fan base.
Customers sometimes congregate around the block in anticipation of the store’s Wednesday openings. It is open Wednesdays through Saturdays, but locals have learned that staff display the latest offerings on those two days.
“I’m one of those people who doesn’t like to have all things the same,” Orr said.
“I have plates in all different colors. You know, I think I took a matching set of plates that I got from my wedding to the thrift store.
“When I need something, the first thing I really think of is: ‘Oh, I guess I’ll just check the thrift store.’ ”