While on her way to see “Hello, Dolly!” at the Lyceum Theatre in Arrow Rock, Sheila Scott from Jefferson City stopped in Columbia to grab some lunch and to check out the merchandise at Upscale Resale.
Four years ago, she stepped into the store on West Broadway for the first time on a friend’s recommendations. Now, she stops by almost every time she is in Columbia.
“I like to save money when I buy clothes, Scott said. “I can find nice clothes for a cheaper price at resale stores. I bargain. I hardly ever buy anything for full price; usually, it’s on sale.”
Resale and thrift store managers and owners in Columbia say that in the past two years, as the economy has softened, they’ve seen growth in the number and variety of customers. The volume of incoming merchandise has also increased.
Nationwide, 83.4 percent of resale and thrift stores nationwide saw an increase in customers, according to a National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops’ survey that compared first-quarter 2009 sales to first-quarter 2008 sales. About 63 percent of all shops also reported growth in sales. For 47 percent of the stores, the incoming volume of inventory expanded, but for most of them, the quality of their merchandise remained the same.
When Upscale Resale opens on Wednesday mornings (it’s closed Sunday through Tuesday), about 50 people are in line in front of the building, Judy Carter, a store manager, said.
As part of the Assistance League of Mid-Missouri, a nonprofit volunteer organization, Upscale Resale uses its profits to support philanthropic programs for women and children in the community. The shore offers a variety of name-brand clothing such as Ralph Lauren and Chico’s, as well as shoes, accessories, books and housewares.
“I was so concerned in January because we didn’t have many donations, but in the spring it picked up and has been very steady since then,” Carter said.
Sales at Maude Vintage Clothing and Costumes, located downtown on Broadway, have increased 20 percent from this year over last, owner Sabrina Braden said.
“I think it’s because we’ve been in business for eight and half years,” Braden said. “It is a reflection of the recession, but it is also (people taking) notice of the good prices and the good selection of fashionable and vintage clothes. Also, some people are just avid shoppers.”
Laura Wilson, owner of BlackBerry Exchange on Ninth Street, said that the notion that everyone is buying used merchandise might be exaggerated. Women’s clothing boutiques such as Swank, Elly’s Couture and Britches seem to be getting their share of the sales.
Erin Keltner, owner of Swank on Broadway downtown, said, “We’re doing fine. The only thing I have noticed is that more people are putting things on hold and coming back for them usually later that day or the next.”
Unlike the boutiques, though, BlackBerry Exchange offers a $1 rack that includes vintage pieces as well as everyday staples from Forever 21, Old Navy, Banana Republic, J.Crew and Marc Jacobs, among others.
Maude Vintage also offers a wide variety of merchandise, such as vintage clothing from the early 1980s and before, modern outfits such as BCBG and Lux, accessories and furniture.
“High school and college kids have always been my customers because of the prices,” Braden said. “But my base group has now grown to families as well. Our customers are as diverse as the type of people walking the streets of downtown.”
Braden said the quality of the clothing people are bringing in hasn’t changed, but more people are bringing in merchandise, bought for about 60 percent of the projected resale price.
“They’re bringing everything from their closet, things that are not vintage or do not fit the modern market,” she said. “There is more of a tone of desperation, ‘I have to make the rent or I need gas money.'”
Stacy Allen, manager of New Beginning Consignment Clothing on Tenth Street, has not seen a big difference in the amount of clothing that is brought into the store, but she said the store has not experienced a slow period in about two years.
“When school is out, the whole town seems to shrink, and we seem to be slowing down. But, that is yet to happen,” she said.
New Beginning carries “gently” used clothes for a wide variety of customers, from mothers and teenagers to doctors and professors, Allen said.
Plato’s Closet on East Broadway, the city’s newest resale store, is a franchise that caters to fashion-conscious young adults and opened about a month ago. During its first three weeks, it rang up more than $100,000 in sales, manager Lauren Strain said.
“The customers are great. We see probably about 100 people a day,” she said. “It’s because we are so brand new and no one really knows who we are, so people come to check us out. But we have also seen some of the same faces.”
“Although we are in a college town, and we should expect to see more college students, we see the everyday, average people coming in to shop,” Strain said. “With school starting in less than a month, everyone will be back in town. It will be interesting to see what happens.”
Leslie Beddingfield contributed to this story.BlackBerry Exchange
16 S. Ninth St.
Maude Vintage Clothing and Costumes
818 E. Broadway
New Beginning Consignment Clothing
7 S. Tenth St.
2609 E. Broadway
1729 W. Broadway