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‘Green’ and thrifty shoppers fuel growth of resale stores

Thrift stores, secondhand stores, vintage stores. Call them what you will, but stores selling gently used items — from clothes and furniture to children’s gear and building materials — are popping up everywhere. In Kalamazoo alone, an Internet search will turn up nearly 50 listings of secondhand stores, from shops that sell items on consignment to those that sell donated goods.

And this trend is happening not just in Southwest Michigan but nationally. According to the Association of Resale Professionals, the business of selling secondhand goods has become a $13-billion-a-year industry in the U.S., expanding about 7 percent per year over the last two years and attracting shoppers from all economic levels. According to America’s Research Group, a consumer research firm, about 16 to 18 percent of Americans will shop at a thrift store during a given year, and 12 to 15 percent will shop at consignment or other resale shops. That’s compared to 19.3 percent who shop at retail clothing stores and 21.3 percent who shop at major department stores.

To define terms, a thrift shop is run by a not-for-profit organization and takes donations to fund charitable causes; a consignment shop pays the owners of the merchandise a percentage if and when the items are sold; other resale shops buy merchandise from individual owners to resell.

So, what’s driving the demand for secondhand stores? On one hand, hard economic times have forced many people to find bargains where they can. On the other, generations have grown up on the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra and may just be exercising their ‘green’ philosophy.

“I’d say it’s a little of both trends,” says Lauren Worgess, owner of Loved Boutique, an upscale clothing resale shop at 116 W. South St., in Kalamazoo. “I’d definitely factor in the green aspect, but our clientele is very price-savvy.”

Thrift stores and other resale stores are not a new concept. What is new, however, is the rise of the thrift store shopper. “There was a stigma that’s been disappearing as thrift shops become more boutique-y,” says Michael Gold, founder of TheThriftShopper.com, a Vero Beach, Fla.-based directory of charity-based secondhand stores.

On consignment

Among those “boutique-y” shops are local stores such as Loved and Clothing Connection that specialize in selling clothes on consignment. Typically, most consignment stores offer 40 to 50 percent of the sale price to the consignor. Most also have criteria for clothing being seasonal, clean and without any stains or tears or odors such as cigarette smoke while offering discounted prices to customers the longer the item has been on the rack. Often, items remaining unsold after a given time, usually around 90 days, are donated to area charities.

Loved is one of those shops. “We focus on higher-end brands,” says Worgess, who stocks items from consignors not only from Kalamazoo, but from across the country, especially the Los Angeles area, where she has shopped herself.

“They wear a designer outfit once, and they’re done with it. We may carry a Ralph Lauren dress from such a consignor that cost $1,600, but we cut the price by 50 or 60 percent,” she says.

Worgess’ clientele ranges widely, from the college student looking for a special-occasion outfit on the cheap to the downtown professional woman shopping for a business suit at a savings. Loved recently stopped selling men’s clothing because Worgess found that men don’t bargain-shop the way women do.

“We just moved to our new location next to Something’s Brewing downtown, and it was a good time to drop the men’s line,” Worgess says. She chose the new location, she says, because it would better showcase her clothing and jewelry. The jewelry is new and often created by local artists.

Each consignment shop in Kalamazoo fills a niche uniquely its own. “There are a lot of us, but we all offer something different,” says Janice Penny of Clothing Connection, at 4011 Portage Road, in the Milwood Shopping Center. She is manager and partner with shop owner Barbara Howard, and the mother-daughter team has been in business for 32 years.

“My mom was a teacher in the Paw Paw schools and worked part-time at the Clothing Connection for about 10 years,” Penny says. “When the original owner retired, she offered it to my mom, and, of course, Mom bought it. I was working for the city of Kalamazoo back then, but 14 years ago I lost my job in layoffs. I’ve been here ever since.”

Clothing Connection’s niche is vintage clothing. When the store brought in five pieces of vintage clothing and the pieces got grabbed up right away, a new vision was born. Today, Penny says, the store carries about 50,000 vintage pieces.

“Women scoop it up, that old quality,” Penny says. “You remember the old Gilmore’s, Jacobson’s. That kind of quality in clothing is hard to find now. Manufacturers have been sending clothing out to countries where they can get cheap labor and cheaper fabrics. I say they are shooting themselves in the foot. People are sales-minded today, yes, but they want quality too. We offer both.”

Vintage is trendy too, Penny says. Younger generations enjoy putting on clothing from the 1980s or even earlier. Baby boomers, meanwhile, are at the point in their lives that they are cleaning out their closets and attics of clothing that now qualifies as vintage.

“Clothing Connection stocks the unusual, the romantic clothing like that hand-woven sweater of the ’70s. We also offer personal shopping if you want assistance putting together an outfit,” Penny says.

Home decor

Clothing, however, is not the only item up for secondhand sale in the area. Furniture is in demand too, and it’s not the sofa with squishy cushions and cat-scratched arms one might find at the garage sale down the street. Kalamazoo Kitty, at 4217 Portage St., offers not just sofas but a design service to help buyers place sofas to their best advantage in their living rooms.

“I find that shoppers are in my store for several reasons,” says Kitty Copeland, namesake and owner of Kalamazoo Kitty. “Some shop consignment due to a tight budget. They know they can get more for their money that way. Others shop consignment for quality. They know that older pieces of furniture are well-made and will last longer than newer, mass-produced pieces.”

Kalamazoo Kitty fills 11,000 square feet with furniture treasure, and it’s the treasure hunt, Copeland says, that draws some of her customers. “There’s a group of shoppers that just love the hunt. They like to see what comes in each day, and then they find something that they just can’t live without. One of my customers said it was just like walking through Pinterest,” she says, referring to the popular online pin board where users “collect” favorite images and websites.

To put her sales to best use, Kitty Copeland offers decorating services, assistance in home staging and new construction, kitchen and bathroom remodeling, window treatments and flooring.

“The green aspect plays a big part as well,” Copeland adds. “More and more people are intrigued with the idea of repurposing, reusing and redoing a great piece of furniture rather than buying brand new.” Older furniture, she says, often is built to last.

No argument from Christy Lansom, owner of Christy’s, at 3015 Oakland Drive, in the corner of Oakwood Plaza (soon to be at 3017 Oakland Drive as Christy’s will move to a larger location in the same plaza next month). Lansom has been selling consignment fine furniture since 2005. Along with furniture, Christy’s sells artwork, accessories, lamps, crystal and collectibles.

“You know, I never thought the consignment trend was because of a bad economy,” Lansom says. “I’ve never heard a consignor say, ‘I’m selling this because I need the money.’ Older furniture was better made, and my customers gravitate toward that higher quality. I have a lot of regulars who come in just to see what’s new. One of my regulars admitted that coming here was ‘dangerous’ for her wallet.”

“It’s the hunt,” she says, echoing other consignment shop owners.

For Lansom, opening a consignment store for furniture was a natural step after her years in design at Welling, Ripley & Labs Furniture on Stadium Drive in Kalamazoo and after being exposed to the world of retail as a child, when her parents owned Ruggles, a gift shop in Battle Creek.

“I’m a risk taker by nature,” Lansom says. “There was a gift shop at this location before, so when I saw it open up, I liked the neighborhood feel of this strip mall. I went to the bank, borrowed the money and opened for business in 2005.”

Lansom says she sees an average of 40 customers per day. As for the popularity of consignment shops of all kinds in Kalamazoo, “it’s friendly competition,” she says. “We’re all different. It’s kind of like car dealerships all building one next to the other.”

Like the owners of clothing consignment shops, Lansom offers a 60/40 split, but she gives the larger part of the split to the consignor. Accessories are sold at a 50/50 split.

“We probably carry about 100 consignors at a time,” Lansom says. There’s a demand for fine furniture, she says, while there is also a need for furniture at still lower prices. “Grapevine Furniture had a great run,” she says about the store on Portage Road that sold used furniture for about 25 years but closed in September. “They were more for the college student, while our customer is usually in the 35-on-up-to-75 age range.”

Building materials

What people find attractive about secondhand furniture — quality that lasts — is also something they look at when building or remodeling a home or building. One outlet for finding reusable household goods is the Kalamazoo Valley Habitat for Humanity ReStore, or KVHH ReStore, at 1810 Lake St., in Kalamazoo, west of Juliana’s Restaurant.

Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit organization that has built approximately 800,000 homes across the country, and the families moving into these homes are offered interest-free mortgage loans. ReStore is an outgrowth of Habitat for Humanity, with about 700 locations throughout the United States and Canada. All proceeds from these retail outlet stores help fund Habitat for Humanity construction.

While many people are familiar with Habitat, not as many know what happens to the building supplies left over from projects or donated by individuals and companies.

“The KVHH ReStore opened in October 2005. Since that time, we have recycled almost 3 million pounds of items and materials to new users and consumers. That’s 3 million pounds of stuff diverted from local landfills,” says Ann Kilkuskie, director of community relations for Habitat for Humanity in Kalamazoo. “We also recycle scrap metal through the ReStore, and cardboard.”

“Last year alone, we saved 9.3 million pounds from landfills across the entire state of Michigan,” adds store manager Joe Madden. Michigan, he says, has a total of 50 Habitat for Humanity ReStores.

Madden walks through the store he manages, moving through 10,000 square feet of aisles divided into two large areas. He employs nine part-time employees at the store, but it is mostly run by volunteers, with anywhere from 10 to 20 volunteers lending a hand each week.

The ReStore, he says, is a very affordable home-improvement store. It’s not a consignment shop but more of a secondhand or outlet store, often selling new items that are donated as irregular or leftover, such as rolls of carpeting in odd sizes left over from jobs or boxes of floor tiles remaining after bigger jobs or leftover roofing materials.

“Many of our customers shop the ReStore to buy items they need to repair and improve their homes and furnish and decorate them at discount prices,” Madden says. “We see a lot of landlords wanting to improve their rental properties at a discount. Tenants too. Our bestselling item is paint. It’s called ePaint, short for Everybody’s Paint, and it’s made from recycled paint.”

The recycled paint is remixed into a rainbow of fresh colors and sold for $10.99 a gallon. “It’s actually better quality than the expensive stuff you buy at the home-improvement store,” Madden says, and he should know. He worked many years for a big-name home-improvement store but feels this is the job for him. It has heart.

“These are really hard-working people here,” he says. “There’s a common misperception that we’re giving houses away. Those families work for what they get. And the people working here, half the staff have a place to live because of their jobs here.”

Also found at the ReStore are hand and power tools, bathroom and kitchen fixtures, lighting, appliances and televisions, drywall, doors, windows, vinyl siding, cabinets and wood trim.

“Donations have to be a certain level of quality, of course,” Madden says. “It has to be something we can sell. Our donors are homeowners, stores and often colleges, getting rid of dorm furniture. Western Michigan University gave us a lot of extra building supplies when they were building the new medical school.”

KVHH also works in partnership with other consignment and thrift stores. Donated items that don’t sell at the ReStore are given to Goodwill.

“Sometimes we receive donations of quality items that are a bit more upscale or pricey for our average ReStore customers,” Kilkuskie says. “We then place these items on consignment at Kalamazoo Kitty to try to sell them at a better price. We also receive donations from Kalamazoo Kitty.”

What comes around goes around, and thrift stores often benefit from higher-priced consignment stores, taking leftover or unsold items and giving those items yet one more chance to find a new owner. Longtime charity-based thrift stores in the Kalamazoo area include Goodwill, the Salvation Army Family Store, the St. Vincent DePaul Society Thrift Store, the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission Thrift Store and Nuway Thrift Store. Such thrift stores often donate proceeds to the needy. Others provide job opportunities to the disadvantaged.

Whatever type of store they choose, savvy shoppers looking for discounted clothing or products have become not only common but trendy. It’s not just about saving a dollar. It’s about conserving resources and discovering lost treasure.

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Resale Resources

There are more than 50 resale, consignment and thrift stores in the greater Kalamazoo area that sell everything from used records and books to clothing, toys and furniture. This list is a sampling of them:

Books

Kazoo Books
Two locations: 407 N. Clarendon St.; 2413 Parkview Ave.

Friends of the Kalamazoo Public Library Bookstore
315 S. Rose St.

Building materials

Habitat for Humanity ReStore
1810 Lake St.

CDs and records

The Corner Record Shop
1710 W. Main St.

Green Light Music & Video
47167 West KL Ave.

Consignment shops – children’s clothing

Once Upon A Child
643 Romence Road

Second Childhood
6784 S Westnedge Ave.

Consignment shops – clothing

360 Consignment
4618 W. Main St.

Clothing Connection Consignment Boutique
4235 Portage St.

Double Exposure
7067 S. Westnedge Ave.

Hand Me Down Rose
5462 Gull Road, Suite 11

Loved
117 E. South St.

Plato’s Closet
6392 S. Westnedge Ave.

Styles for All Seasons
Mall Plaza, 157 S. Kalamazoo Mall

Consignment shops – furniture and home decor

Christy’s Furniture on Consignment
3015 Oakland Drive

Kalamazoo Kitty
4217 Portage St.

Simple Treasures
3721 S. Westnedge Ave.

Thrift stores

American Cancer Society Discovery Shop
4502 W. Main St.

Goodwill Industries of Southwest Michigan
Three locations: 420 E. Alcott St., 5609 W. Main St. and 411 Milham Road

Kalamazoo Gospel Mission Thrift Store
131 E. Harkins Court

NuWay Thrift Store
211 E. Cork St.

Salvation Army Thrift Store
5117 Portage Road

Second Impressions Upscale Thrift Store
3750 S. Westnedge Ave.

St. Vincent DePaul Society Thrift Store
513 Eleanor St.

St. Luke’s Thrift Shop
5117 Portage Road