Cash-strapped college kids find refuge in thrift stores

Some think of thrift stores as a last option of shopping, but hundreds of resale shops in Oklahoma are becoming more lucrative, offering not only affordable options in clothing and items, but a quality experience as well. As more people aim to cut expenses, thrift stores are experiencing a renaissance in popularity, especially with youth and the college crowd.


Goodwill Industries International, for instance, claims that sales for June rose 6.1 percent nationally compared to the same time last year.

"We've definitely seen an increase in sales, and that continues. In fact, (one week in September) was our best week ever," said Jennifer Bradford, spokeswoman for Oklahoma Goodwill Industries. "Our donations are up, which is good, because if we get more donations, our sales go up."

Although thrift stores are more popular now with the general population, they have always been the refuge of the cash-strapped college crowd.

"We always see a lot of college students," Bradford said. "Of course, we have 10 stores in the Central Oklahoma area, and although we don't have a program especially geared to college students, they always find us."

Resale shops, which are considered "thrift stores" only if they are with a nonprofit, are boosting sales in the economic downturn, according to the National Association of Resale & Thrift Shops. The organization states Goodwill Industries generated $1.9 billion from its 2,246 thrift stores across the U.S. in 2007.

A study by America's Research Group found that 16 percent to 18 percent of Americans will shop at a thrift store in a given year. For consignment and resale shops, that number is closer to 12 percent to 15 percent.

Additionally, shoppers are discovering resale and thrift shops are offering quality merchandise.

"I have really only been to the ones where I live in Edmond, and my favorite of those is Goodwill," said Rebecca Harkey. "I found a table and four chairs that were perfect for my apartment about a month ago for 50 bucks. It's really easy if you have a basic idea of what you want or need, but are flexible."

Others say items can be in almost-new condition.

"When I was in Junior League, I was required to volunteer at their thrift store, The Remarkable Shop," said Jennifer Addington. "Most of the shop's merchandise comes from donations from Junior League members, who may donate items that are still in excellent condition.

"Second, lots of volunteers go over the merchandise to make sure items that are stained, have holes or are otherwise scary don't make it out to the floor."

Addington has found treasures at resale shops, including name-brand handbags and accessories.

"I got a $75 Bijou purse for $25, and my friend got a gorgeous vintage dress she wore to the Beaux Arts Ball for around $70," she said.

Growing in popularity are resale shops specifically geared toward trendy clothing. Daisy Exchange, which has two locations in the metro, buys trendy "mall store" brands purchased within the last two years. In return, the store gives 30 to 35 percent cash up front or 40 percent in store credit for items accepted.

"Our target market is the 12- to 24-year-olds," said Tassidy Hart, manager at Daisy Exchange. "We have a lot of college students because they're on a tight budget, and it's so much cheaper to shop here. They search for practical items, like jeans and T-shirts " not really business wear."

Plato's Closet, located in north Oklahoma City, also uses a buy/sell system and specializes in trendy and gently used clothing for teenagers and college students, with brands like Abercrombie & Fitch and Express at significant savings over retail.

Another advantage for college students is the reusable trend.

"It's a 'go green' thing for them. Recycle what you have, and that's a big deal to the college crowd," Hart said.

Many thrift-store aficionados are finding that retro is "in," which means low prices for vintage items are out. More shoppers are looking for vintage and retro clothing, which means thrift stores aren't the cheap places for such items anymore.

"I am a frequent thrift-store shopper, although the picking is not as good as it used to be," said Alicia Brown. "Now that vintage stores are popping up, it seems that they are getting the good stuff and raising the price really high. So I don't get as excited as I used to about 'hunting' for cool retro finds. It also seems that thrift stores have really raised their prices recently. That being said, I think thrift stores are a really great way to save money on clothes and furniture."  "Heide Brandes

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