Uptown Thrift Stores See Boost in Sales This Season

By Makkada Selah on Dec 24th, 2010

Uptown Shoppers find deals on decorations at thrift stores (photo by Micah Williams)

“It’s always busy this time of year,” says David Deba, store manager at the 125th Street 99 Cent Mart  as he checks in a delivery and helps ring out customers at a register. Several other workers direct customers on the floor toward tablecloths, candles and wrapping paper.    A young woman talking on a cell phone wheels through the Christmas card display looking for the perfect card.

“We’ve been selling a lot of Christmas stuff the last week. Christmas ornaments, Christmas tree, Christmas lights ,” the manager says.

The National Retail Federation, which tracks consumer spending and intentions,  reports that though total holiday spending has dipped dramatically since 2007, it’s up a bit since 2009. Last year 11.4 percent of people said they were planning on shopping in a thrift store or resale shop for the holidays. This year 11.9 percent of shoppers said so.

What’s more, last year nine percent of respondents with income over $50,000 a year said they planned to holiday shop at thrift stores or resale shops; this year that number reached 9.8 percent.

Thrift stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army are poised to take advantage of this upturn. Goodwill New York is now opening at least two new stores per year and in the New York region has seen an increase of 4 to 5 percent in sales over last year, says Alan Kirpalani, Manhattan district manager.    

Since 2005, the Salvation Army has seen an increase of 7 percent in shoppers and a 14 percent increase in revenue throughout the Northeast overall.

“Some of the stigma of shopping at thrift stores is going away,” says Brian Merchant, sales manager at Salvation Army’s Manhattan Center. “We’ve seen people who are strictly donors who are now customers as well.”

The stores have changed as well. Goodwill has gone big time with its advertising, introduced  discount cards and changed its logo to a more inviting “smiling G”.  In many locations, it is erecting gigantic stores that look just like Targets or a Wal-marts, with merchandise set aside in organized sections —  no more going in and rambling through cast-offs.

At the Goodwill Store on 135th Street and Fifth Avenue, a woman buys gifts for her daughter, mostly clothes. Assistant manager Travis Anthony says he’s sold a lot of furniture—a dresser, a table, and a computer desk.  Plastic iPad protectors still in their retail boxes are for sale near the register. A shelf near the middle of the store holds unopened toys: a Fisher-Price  tricycle, a Play-Doh set, a Monopoly game, gigantic stuffed baseballs and Star Wars action figures, all new.

When most people think of shopping at Goodwill, they picture hand-me-downs. But according to a recent sales report from the Goodwill store at East 121st Street and Third Avenue,  23 percent of the store’s sales in the first two weeks of December were what’s called “hard goods,” new and nearly-new merchandise  purchased from Target to resell. Certain items like scented candles were not marked down  from Target prices, but Britta filters, electric curlers, blinds, light bulbs, dishes, stuffed animals, and a whole bin of linens  were reduced. Garmin 205 GPS devices that go for  $89 at Target were selling at Goodwill for $69, eight of them in their unopened boxes.

The Salvation Army also confirms an increase in shoppers at its Family Store on East 125th Street.  Though shoppers don’t see as much new merchandise at Salvation Army, items can be just as valuable. One elderly Harlem resident reported finding a folding shopping cart at the 125th Street store that sells for anywhere from $13 to $30 online, selling at the Salvation Army store for $20. “It looked like people were waiting for me to turn it loose so they could grab it,” he says.

“ More and more budget-conscious families are discovering that “‘new-to-me’” is just as good as retail, without the large price tag,” says Merchant . “What’s more, they get the additional benefit of knowing they’re helping fund the Army’s rehabilitation centers, where lives are transformed.”

Alan Kirpalani of Goodwill shares a similar sentiment. “Money isn’t always the important thing,” says Kirpalani. “We are recycling. We are helping others to live.”

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