Bad economy spells good business for thrift stores

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

STATEWIDE When money is tight, a shabby pair of pants from the thrift store might fit just right. As food and energy prices soar, some consumers are thinking twice before plunking down $200 for a new pair of jeans and heading instead to thrift stores.

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Local Goodwill sales are up 9% and donations have increased.

Tight times for consumers have pushed sales at Goodwill Industries of Columbia Willamette up by 9% in the past year, says spokeswoman Dale Emanuel, and donations have increased 15%.

Thrift stores have long been a fashion statement or a cost-conscious alternative to department stores, but in hard times, thrift and resale shops rise from their humble origins and turn into moneymaking machines. The National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops reports that the industry has been growing at 5% per year.

Most thrift stores are nonprofits. Others, like Arizona-based Buffalo Exchange, are for-profit resale shops. The company has three stores in Oregon and their sales are up 13% from this time last year, says company president Kerstin Block. In 2007, they had nearly $50 million in sales nationwide. Customers can sell their clothes for cash, or trade for store credit. Most of the store’s used clothes are marked down two to three times from the original price.

“If it’s a down economy, typically more people are selling stuff,” says Block. In turn, the company is selling more because it has more product and shoppers.

In business for 34 years, Block knows the cycle of weak and strong economies well. Like clockwork, when it’s going bad it’s good for business, she says.

JASON SHUFFLER




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