Thrifty Shopping

It seems counterintuitive that a thrift store would be closing when times are so tight. Wouldn’t the store in which you can get the most items of clothing for the least amount of money be thriving in a tough economy? Apparently that’s not the case in Sonoma County because the Press Democrat reported last week that the Salvation Army is closing two of its stores.

However, when I thought about my recent shopping experiences and what is coming in and going out of my closet, I can see several reasons why thrift stores are also hitting hard times.

In the past, when I had a jacket in my closet that I hadn’t worn for two years, I automatically dropped it off at Goodwill but not anymore. Now, if doesn’t have shoulder pads and looks like it was purchased before Y2K, I’ll take it to a consignment store to see if it might be worth a few dollars to me down the road.

I’m not the only one doing this. I saw an article earlier this month touting consignment stores as a “winner in a crummy economy.” In a survey by the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops, stores reported an increase of more than 85% in new customers and 75% are seeing new donors. And this information was reported in August before the stock market really tanked.

You just have to look around Petaluma to know that consignment stores are a booming business. Off the top of my head, I can think of four of them in town and a year ago I wasn’t aware of even one.

Plus just like with the auto makers, thrift stores are also suffering because people aren’t spending money to on new stuff to replace the old. Thrift stores rely on donations for their inventory, so when there are fewer acid-washed jeans dropped off at the donation box that means a smaller selection of goods and fewer sales.

However, at the same time that the Salvation Army thrift store is struggling to glean enough goods to attract shoppers, mainstream retailers are overflowing with merchandise ““ and offering deals that make the prices almost as low on their virginal merchandise as you can get on the used clothes at a thrift store.

Let me give you an example. My preteen daughter and I went to the mall on Saturday. We had a 30% off coupon for Limited Too so I thought that might be a good opportunity for her to choose a sweater that I could stash away for Christmas. She also has outgrown three pairs of jeans since school started, and even though I usually consider Limited Too somewhat pricey, I thought that our coupon would bring the price of the jeans into a more reasonable range.

When we got to Limited Too, we discovered that everything in the store was “Buy One Get One Free” and I had a 30% off coupon. We didn’t end up buying a sweater; they didn’t look as cute in person as they did in the catalogue, but we get her two pairs of jeans and two long sleeve shirts for $40 including tax. That means that I paid about $9 each for the jeans and tops. I’m sure that is more than I would pay at a thrift store”¦assuming they even had merchandise in her size”¦but it’s not that much more to pay for brand-new fashionable school clothes.

Another example: whenever I’m in Target, I make a sweep through the clothing department and check out the shirts on the clearance rack. More often than not, I find a knit top marked down to $5 that ends up being a staple of my wardrobe. I often find myself thinking, why would anyone opt for a down-in-the-heel shopping experience at Goodwill when the choices and prices are so good here?

I suppose one of the blessings of our new economy is that in addition to cheaper gas and lower mortgage rates, thrifty and new are no longer mutually exclusive.

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