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Cover Story January 8th, 2009

  Untitled Document

the navajoby lyle e davis

A $1200 Armani suit for $50? $200 shoes for $10? Shoes, shirts and pants of all styles and colors for as little as five dollars, brand name coffee makers for 15 dollars, microwaves for 25 dollars, or novels, including best sellers, for the modest price of 99 cents? What can cost large sums of money in department stores, one can find for far less if you know where to look.

For years some of the sharpest shoppers in the area have known these little known secrets. You can really find fantastic buys at consignment shops, resale stores, thrift stores, as well as pawn shops. Now, with the down economy, more and more people are looking to stretch their dollars further and having no problem doing it by beginning to shop at these stores.

Second-hand store savings can be, in many cases, between 50% and 90% savings on the price of the same item brand new.

Consumers "can't change the price of gas. They can't change the price of food. They can't make the stock market go up again," said Adele Meyer, executive director of the National Association of Resale & Thrift Shops. "But they can control the price of clothes and furniture by being a savvy shopper."

The National Association of Resale & Thrift Shops predicts a big increase in sales this year for secondhand stores. The trade group, based in St. Clair Shores, Mich., represents for-profit resale stores and charity thrift shops. According to a survey conducted by the association, about 74 percent of its members reported increased sales in September and October, with an average jump of about 35 percent.

Meyer credits several factors that pump up the resale industry -- even during tough economic times. She said the increased popularity for recycling helps, and more shoppers seem to enjoy the thrill of hunting out valuable merchandise and enjoying what she called "the excitement of a good buy."

Locally, we see similar signs to those reported by the national organizations.

Tami Marmon, owner of Deborah’s Next to New store in Escondido, confirms that sales are up at their facility. “We’re seeing more and more new customers and they come from a broad demographic range. Middle and upper income folks are seen more and more often.”

Deborah’s Next to New is about 98% consignment. “We tend to only take items for consignment that are of better quality. Our shoppers recognize both quality and value . . . we believe that’s why we’re seeing more and more new customers and why they are often more selective in their purchases.” At the Assistance League store in Escondido, Linda Brown of Pauma Valley, said . . “I love it here! I’ve been coming ever since it opened. They always have great qual-ity and super prices.”

A lovely living room setting.
Cost for sofa, end table, coffee table, table lamp, hutch: $521.00 - from Deborah’s Next to New - probably 40 to 60% less than at a furniture store

The Assistance League has a clever slogan . . . “We’re the Nordstrom’s of Thrift Stores,” they say. The claim appears valid. They had a number of high end pieces of furniture on display, as well as a wide variety of jewelry.

“I’m here today because of the 50% off sale,” said Dawn Cabrera, of Escondido. “I’ve been coming here ever since they opened. They have great people here and the quality of merchandise is outstanding. Earlier this week I bought four pair of winter pants for $1 each. I‘m more than happy with that bargain. Earlier, I bought a kitchen table and chairs set for $125. That same set would have cost me $400 in a department store, easy.”

Lee Irwin of Rancho Bernardo told of how he once bought an old sea chest for $10. Turns out it was worth between $750 and $1000. It had an old brass plate with the seaman’s name on it. “Shopping these thrift stores is like looking for seashells at the beach,” he says. “When the tide goes out, every now and then you find a prize seqshell. You just have to be there at the right time.”

Just one of several ensembles of furniture available at The Assistance League in Escondido

Gloria Hernandez of Valley Center shops the Assistance League in Escondido about twice per week, usually in the mornings, as she finds good quality, always.

Alex Jacob of the Escondido Salvation Army Thrift Store tells of the time they had an end table on the floor. “I thought it was priced too high at $150,” he said. “But, a customer came in an bought it. Later, he told me he opened a drawer in the end table and found all kinds of papers that authenticated the end table as being of Italian design, even with the designer’s certificate. It was worth $2500. I just smiled and congratulated him. He made a terrific buy. We see things like that happen in this business.”

Sharon Corrigan, a spokesperson for Goodwill Industries confirms they are seeing more shoppers. Their sales are up. In 2007, in San Diego County, Goodwill recorded $ 18,643,133 in sales, an increase of $1,096,315 over 2006. The figures for 2008 are not yet in but all indications are that sales continue to rise. Their donations are up by 19%, not unusual for December as donors were anxious to make donations before December 31st for tax reasons. Goodwill Industries mostly receives merchandise as donations; they do not actively solicit cash donations. A healthy 84% of revenue comes from sale of donated goods.

The Way the Game is Played

A consignment store takes in and displays merchandise for the mutual benefit of the store and the owner of the property. The split varies but at Deborah’s Next to New, for example, the store keeps 60% of the sale price, the remaining 40% goes to the property owner. Some consignment stores split 50/50, others, such as The Assistance League, gives 60% to the owner of the property, keeping 40% for themselves.

A resale store will often purchase items at estate sales, or from other dealers, often at a deep discount. They then resell the merchandise, marking it up for their profit. Often, a resale store and consignment store are one in the same. It all depends upon how they acquire their merchandise.

A Thrift Store will generally take donations, separate them, display and sell. Usually, this is to benefit a charitable organization. However, in the early 2000’s, more and more for-profit thrift stores emerged. The number of for profit resale shops increased an estimated 10 to 15 percent each year during the early to mid-1990s, according to the National Association of Resale and Thrift Stores (NARTS).

In 2000, U.S. consumers spent an estimated $17 billion in secondhand stores. Resale shopping became a mainstream activity in the early 2000s.

Pawnshops were an estimated $5 billion a year business by 2003. Pawnshops loan money on the security of personal property. The item pawned is then often offered for sale in the pawnshop. Unsold items may be redeemed by the pawner for the same price originally given by the pawnbroker within a liberal time frame. Pawnshops deal in all used merchandise, from household items to musical instruments to jewelry.

From the early 1980s to 2000 the number of pawnshops in the United States more than doubled, reaching about 14,000. Another reason for the success of pawnshops was the somewhat dramatic increase in the number of Americans who were forgoing traditional bank accounts and turning to pawn shops as alternative loan sources. A lot less paperwork and formality.

One of the more prominent pawnshop operations in North San Diego County is Gems ‘n Loans, with stores in Escondido, Vista and Oceanside.

Mack Hembree, considered by many to be the gentleman of the pawn shop industry, and the owner of this chain, has invested a great deal of money in upgrading the stores so they are pleasant, well designed, soft interior decorating motif, and well lighted. All of his staff are well trained, courteous, polite, knowledgable. His three pawnshops have seen a definite trend upward in clientele, both buyers and pawners/seller. Just some examples of bargains you can find here:

Gems ‘n Loans Hidden Treasure

If you really want to go high end merchandise, Gems ‘n Loans offers a Platinum five-diamond ring with a 2.0 carat, VS2 (a rating for clarity of the stone) F (color of stone) The center stone is a Princess Cut diamond with a GIA certificate and is approximately 1.68 carats in weight, surrounded by diamond accents and channel set baguettes. Estimated retail price $49,000 Their normal price is $24,999; on sale for $17,500. Costco, Gems ‘n Loans points out, has a 2.0 carat princess single engagement ring VS2-F color platinum setting on sale for $18,999.

photoGems ‘n Loans also offer great bargains in the less expensive price ranges as well. For example, electronics have been big sellers for them. Recently, they sold the New BLOCKBUSTER HIT "Hancock," starring Will Smith for $2. Walmart’s price $24.99.

They also offer PS3's, PSP's, Wii's, XBOX 360's, as well as their games! The electronic game equipment, with access, in good condition with a 30 day warranty, all sell for anywhere from 60 to 75% less than you’d pay elsewhere. The game softwear themselves, that often sell for between $49-$79 each, sell for $5-$24.99. They also offer DVD's at 5 for $10.

The Salvation Army and Goodwill Industries International, the nation's two largest charitable resale organizations, report year-to-date sales increases of 6 percent to 15 percent. Typical comments of managers of the various thrift and consignment stores: "We're seeing a lot more middle-class and upper-class customers we haven't seen before. Without even asking, you can just look in the parking lot (at their cars)."

Betsy Ortez, the hard working lady at Escondido’s St. Vincent’s de Paul reports their sales have increased as well, due, she thinks, to the down economy She goes on to say: “We’re located at 10th and Escondido Boulevard. I’ve noticed that we’ve been having more and more folks come in to visit us from Rancho Bernardo. Check our parking lots and you’ll see Mercedes, BMW’s, Porsches, as well as the more mundane vehicles. We have a broad spectrum of clientele.”

Several years ago, Betsy and her colleagues John Costello and John Vanderzan took over the former Elizabeth Hospice Thrift Store and have operated it successfuly ever since for the benefit of St. Vincent de Paul.

From Double Take, a St. John Knit Suit with matching purse from Cartier. A $1500 value, only $300.

“We’re seeing more and more smart shoppers,” says Sue Phillips, owner of Double Take, a ladies consignment clothing store in Carlsbad. They feature clothing and accessories, but no furniture. Being a consignment shop they are not a thrift store . . . yet one can often find bargains here as well. Those consigning clothes and accessories often consign high quality merchandise and it is not at all unusual to find outstanding bargains here. We found many St. John Knits, which can sell for up to $1500, priced at $300, sometimes less. We also found Gucci, Cartier (purses), and Chanel. Very upscale merchandise.

Another consignment shop, State Street, in Carlsbad, features high end home furnishings, both new and consignment. Nina Sgueglia, the owner, cheerfully acknowledges about a 35% increase in sales. “We have 6500 square feet here and we only take quality merchandise. Carlsbad pretty much demands that in the market place. We focus mostly on furniture. Probably 90% of our inventory is on consignemnt. We seem to have our own niche. We only take quality merchandise on consignment . . . and our buyers expect that quality. We have seen about a 35% increase in sales.

While it’s true that our typical customer has a household income that ranges anywhere from $50,000 to over $100,000, we are seeing a bit of a slowdown in items coming in for consignment as our potential customers are holding on to their merchandise a bit longer. That’s okay. We have plenty of storage space and can supply our sellers for some time to come. In addition to consigned items, we will also buy quality furniture, such as sofas, from time to time.

We find ourselves occasionally having to compete with eBay and Craigslist . . but, generally, they just don’t have the quality furniture and accessories we offer; plus, with our store you can come in and see, feel and touch the merchandise and can more easily judge actual quality, rather than suggested quality as you find on Internet ads.”

Above, Italian hand painted table top, with four chairs, $1200, normally the table alone was $5000. - from State Street in Carlsbad.

"We’ve found very good things at a very good price that we would otherwise not be able to buy because of the economic situation," said one homemaker as she paid the Escondido Goodwill.

Resale stores include more than 25,000 thrift and consignment businesses. These stores have grown in number by five percent annually in recent years, the National Association of Resale & Thrift Shops reported. It's a $200 billion-a-year industry.

To date, Out of The Closet, serving the Los Angeles area, and which makes $9 million annually, has seen sales increase by 9% from last year, partly thanks to “the purchases from new customers that we’ve never seen before,” according to its manager. And "they come by bicycle, [cars] a Jaguar, whether they are lawyers or nurses."

There are a number of non-profit thrift stores as well as consignment shops. In this type of shop, the customers benefit by not paying taxes on their purchases and also by contributing to a good cause. The Salvation Army gives 85% of their profits to treatment programs for alcohol and drug addicts. Goodwill donates 93 cents of every dollar to training courses for job seekers, including people with disabilities.

Another option for savvy shoppers is stores that deal in “vintage clothing.” Such a store is Vintage Sanctuary, where Stephanie Meek tells us, “Vintage clothing is unique clothing. It can be from the 1950’s, the 1960’s . . . even as far back as the 1940’s. We buy from individual people, we go to rummage sales, we explore estate sales, and a lot of my friends are dealers in the estate market.” Stephanie got into Vintage clothing as a result of her years as a model in the 1990’s. She found vintage clothing interesting . . . soon found others who were also interested . . . and she started a successful business about 10 years ago, in Oceanside.

Memories from the ‘60’s . . . a tote bag with a familiar slogan - from Vintage Sanctuary, Oceanside. $35

There can be a flip side to these increased bargains at thrift stores In recent months, many stores have experienced a considerable drop in donation items they receive to sell.

"Since people are not buying new things, we are no longer receiving as many donations as before. Now people are trying to hang onto their belongings instead of donating them," said one local manager of a thrift store.

And because of that, those who determine the prices need to clearly “think about the value of the items, but also how much we would be willing to charge the customer knowing that it is used," said Leonardo Valdes, manager of the store Out of the Closet in Hollywood, California.

In these troubled times, the powerful lure of a secondhand retail bargain is attracting a whole new breed of customer. Savers Inc., a for-profit thrift store chain based in Bellevue, Wash., has had a 10 percent growth rate, said chief executive officer Ken Alterman. According to Alterman, 75 percent of the company's customers are college educated, with an average income between $50,000 and $65,000. Thirty percent of its customers have household incomes exceeding $100,000, he said.

"We're in these beautiful neighborhoods, and the stores just thrive," Alterman said. "We hold up well in this economy."

"People are really savvy now," said Angie Heidenreich, owner of LuLu's Consignment Boutique in Fletcher, N.C. "With consignment you make money, you save money and you recycle. It's a no-brainer."

Heidenreich opened her consignment store — which essentially serves as a middleman for customers who want to buy and sell clothes — in November, 2006. Sales increases of nearly 100 percent forced her to more than triple the store's size to keep up with demand.

"We're getting more people in who probably wouldn't have stepped in the door," she said. "It's more acceptable now than it was in the past. The image of thrift stores were kind of grungy, dingy places. Now some of them are like boutiques."

More and more typical thrift store customers are saying things like, "I've gotten addicted," they’ll say. "You can pay $2 or $3 for the same thing that would cost you $400 at the mall."

New customers aside, thrift shops continue to attract a devoted cadre of bargain-hunters. Now that more traditional shoppers have been exposed to the secondhand market, its boosters don't expect that renewed interest to taper off anytime soon. At As Good As New in south Lakeland, Florida, there is a constant flow of customers in and out of the store -- a stay-at-home mom looking for outfits for her kids, older women going through rack after rack of clothes looking for a special little something to send to their relatives up north. Patsy Whittington, who owns As Good As New, says her sales have skyrocketed 40 percent this year.

In down economy, charity thrift stores welcome shoppers with bargains and worthy causes. For many of these charities, like the Salvation Army and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the bad economy means more people need their services. Other nonprofits are seeing cash contributions shrink, making sales at their shops more important than ever.

Locally, several charity thrift stores say that this year they've been a little surprised by the robust sales. At Potpourri, with a large facility in Oceanside, they are seeing a 50% increase in sales; substantially more than the national average of 35%, and a great deal more than the average of 12 to 19% seen in North County.
Why? “We advertise aggessively,” said Lois Ruiz, store manager. “We’re in the North County Times and the Pennysaver, every week.”

Potpourri has about 2000 square feet of space at its Oceanside store, 1800 sq. feet of which is used for storage. Almost all of the owners or managers of the various thrift stores told us they were well aware that many shoppers come in, buy merchandise, then try to resell it on either Craig’s List or on Ebay. It has become almost a cottage industry. None of them seem particularly concerned about this practice as they are selling the merchandise. If the buyer can resell it and make a profit, more power to him.

From the Potpourri, in Oceanside, a floral chaise, $450, a value of $600.

Another familiar refrain from many thrift store managers: "We are now seeing people that wouldn't have shopped at a thrift store in the past." Part of that is the downturn of the economy, part is due to the upgrading in both decor of the store(s) and more selectivity of quality merhcandise they’ll accept and display.

Lindel Richardson of Carlsbad said, "I used to shop at places like JCPenney, Marshalls and Target. But now with the way things are, I'm a single mom with two boys, I shop here." She smiled as she dropped a pair of shoes into her shopping cart. They were new, the brand was Unisa, and they cost all of $3.99. Elsewhere she found a sweatjacket for $3.99, and a linen skirt for $1.99.

"Isn't this nice?" she said, holding it up. "I can wear this to church."

The National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops and its member shops recently launched a marketing effort to attract a more affluent group of shoppers. At higher-end stores, shoppers whimsically refer to themselves as "discount divas" or "markdown mavens."

The Bellevue-based parent company, Savers Inc., also operates the Savers and Village des Valeurs chains, with 218 stores in the U.S., Canada and Australia. As the world's largest for-profit thrift chain (six times its closest competitor), Savers annually sells about $600 million in secondhand clothing, shoes, books, home goods and toys.

Savers' growth is not propelled by lower-income "need-to" shoppers, Alterman said — they'll spend the same amount in any economic climate. They're also not the typical client for Savers, where the average customer's household income is between $40,000 and $70,000, he said. There is more growth, he said, among better-off, better-educated bargain hunters, or "want-to" shoppers, who shop thrift stores for the thrill of the hunt as much as for the savings. Both bargain hunters and fashionistas know that there are hidden gems on the racks of thrift shops.

Housing Works has become a recognized shopping destination. The Housing Works Thrift Shops occupy seven upscale locations in New York City, selling high-end vintage treasures to bargain hunters and fashionistas alike. The Thrifts not only provide more than $12 million in funding per year, but also ensure a supply of clothing and essentials for their clients.

"Today we found a Marc Jacobs short-sleeve sweater, for $40," said Naomi Bergknogg, director of stores for Housing Works.

"I was very impressed with the selection of jeans, everything from Joie to paper denim and cloth, $20," said another Housing Works shopper.

She found casual and chic, and loads of labels -- a Baby Phat jacket for $75, a Shearling for $200. A coat in fabulous condition from Club Monaco was just $45.

"People are gravitating to our stores and realizing that they can find great value and bargains in our stores as well as a diversity of merchandise similar to a department store,"

"Some customers are coming in that hadn't before that are looking for interesting and exciting items that are more reasonable than are buying full price, though we need more donations of gently used product," said Housing Works president Richard Vorisek.

For now, shoppers can still find plenty of fashion gold -- Armani, Polo and a brand new Diane Von Furstenberg are just a few of the designer labels that can be found. "There's always the thrill of the hunt when you go to thrift stores,"

At the store where Rose Barton shops, Van Heusen blouses go for $4, brand-new black leather jackets sell for $8, and you can snap up a Christian Dior necktie - normally a steal for under $100 - for just two bucks.

"Being frugal is in," she said. "For the price of going out to eat, you can get a whole new outfit. I would think you can get nice shoes, a skirt and a sweater for less than $50."

Consignment-shop merchandise isn't as cheap as the items sold in the not-for-profits, like Goodwill, where people donate items. But you can go swanky on a budget. "For the high-end stuff, you can buy a $2,500 St. John suit, for example, for $300 to $500."

Consignment shops sell anything from vintage clothing to furniture. Some have added men's wear recently. Thrift stores like Goodwill's and Good Samaritan's finance community projects, such as job-training programs, shelters, soup kitchens and more.

"One day I saw a girl carrying the most beautiful purse I'd ever seen," said one recent shopper in Escondido. "I walked up to her and asked her what it cost, expecting her to say $60. She said, 'I got it at the Salvation Army for 50 cents.'

"I offered her $10 for it, and she wouldn't take it."

Sources for this story:

Deborah’s Next to New
1624 E. Valley Pkwy
Escondido, CA. 92027

Assistance League of Inland North County
2068 E Valley Pkwy
Escondido, CA 92027
(760) 746-7532

Potpourri On the Coast
1024 S. Coast Hwy
Oceanside, CA. 92054

State Street
2659 State STreet
Carlsbad In the Village

Double Take Ladies Consignment Shop
2931 Roosevelt Ave.
Carlsbad, CA.

Vintage Sanctuary
625 S. Coast Highwy
Oceanside, Ca. 92054

Gems ‘N Loans
Escondido, Vista, Oceanside
Phones: 760.712.3569 (Esc)
760.712.3298 (Vista)
760.429.7289 (O’side)

Salvation Army, Escondido
183 E. Washington
Escondido, Ca.

Goodwill, Escondido
506 W. Washington Avenue
Escondido, Ca.

Dining Room ensemble, from Deborah’s Next to New, Escondido
Right, a varietiy of dining ensembles plus hutches and book shelves, all from Deborah’s Next to New, Escondido
Hutch, from Deborah’s Next to New, Escondido $299, normally $499
Dining room ensemble and assorted other fine pieces of furniture from Assistance League of Inland North County, Escondido
Dining ensemble, coffee tables, wall art . . from the Assistance League of Inland North County, Escondido
Assorted glassware, knick-knacks, all from the Assistance League of Inland North County, Escondido









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