Thrift-Store Sales Rise, But Donations Fall
SACRAMENTO, Calif., March 4, 2009, McClatchy Newspapers — When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.
It's a jest, but it's true, at least in this sense: When the economic going gets tough, the tough go shopping at thrift stores.
Millions of people have less to spend, so they spend more where goods cost less - at retail secondhand stores run by charities or for profit.
A downturn may mean an uptick for sales, but it can be a double-edged sword. Sales go high, but supplies go dry.
"Now that the economy is doing poorly, our stores are doing well," said Wendy Steinmetz, spokeswoman for the family-owned Thrift Town, a four-state chain with 15 stores.
Some stores have been setting what Thrift Town dubs "world records." Their weekly sales have hit all-time highs. A Thrift Town in Sacramento, Calif., is the chain's leader. "We're going gangbusters there," Steinmetz said.
People with low incomes or a penchant for saving have long shopped there.
"I have seen a lot more new faces," said Dianna Tucker, that store's manager. She recognizes, and is greeted by, the regular shoppers.
Similarly, sales in the Salvation Army's thrift stores in the western United States are up 3 percent over a year ago, said Dawn Marks, a regional spokeswoman.
"Our clothing sales, our necessities sales, are up," she said.
However, both chains have issues on the supply end.
"We're seeing a decrease in large-items donations," said the Salvation Army's Marks.
In the Salvation Army's southern U.S. region, overall donations are down by 5 percent; the trends are similar throughout the country, said Melissa Temme, a national spokeswoman.
Thrift Town, a for-profit business, buys its merchandise from charities.
To deal with falling donations, the Salvation Army may change its standards for what gets stocked.
Officials there also emphasize that the stores are the sole funding for their rehab centers, which provide counseling and job training for people with drug and alcohol abuse problems.