Thrifty stretch of a buck

Changes is loc­ated at 7911 Bustleton Ave. JENNY SWI­GODA / TIMES PHOTO

In these tough times, the prices and broad range of mer­chand­ise at thrift shops just might be the per­fect op­tion for strapped hol­i­day shop­pers.

Some­times, shop­ping at a thrift store just makes sense, said Ju­li Lun­d­berg, pub­lic re­la­tions man­ager for Good­will In­dus­tries of South­ern New Jer­sey and Phil­adelphia.

“It might snow only a couple times this winter,” she said. So it might not be the best use of your money — es­pe­cially if money is tight at your house — to spend a lot on ski pants or boots that your kids will out­grow by next year, she said.

Thrift store shop­ping in gen­er­al could prove to be a pretty good op­tion dur­ing the hol­i­days. Good­will In­dus­tries, which opened a store early this year at Red Li­on Road and Bustleton Av­en­ue, Changes at 7911 Bustleton Ave., and the Med­ic­al Mis­sion Sis­ters’ store at 8400 Pine Road have large ranges of products on sale every day — from house­wares to toys to fur­niture to elec­tron­ics to cloth­ing.

The same goes for two Sal­va­tion Army fam­ily stores, on Rising Sun Av­en­ue and on Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue.

Their profits go to char­it­ies, and what they do is very green. They are re­cyc­ling items that some people can’t use any­more to people who can.

Joyce Diaz, Changes board pres­id­ent, is proud of the se­lec­tion of name-brand work clothes the store car­ries as well as all the oth­er gar­ments sold.

“We don’t sell any dam­aged cloth­ing. Our clothes are clean and our prices are the cheapest,” she said.

Sis­ter Joan Fo­ley, who man­ages the Med­ic­al Mis­sion Sis­ters thrift store, said her shop sells cloth­ing for of­fice work. So do Changes and Good­will.

“Christ­mas paraphernalia is very pop­u­lar this time of year,” Lun­d­berg said, adding Good­will al­ways sees a rise in dona­tions of hol­i­day mer­chand­ise after and dur­ing the Christ­mas sea­son.

As the eco­nomy has been tank­ing, more and more people have been look­ing at thrift stores as reas­on­able op­tions for some of their pur­chases.

As the school year began, stu­dents go­ing off to col­lege came in for house­wares — dishes, pots and pans, Sis­ter Fo­ley said. Baby cloth­ing, Diaz said, also moves very quickly through her store.

Chil­dren’s cloth­ing and “all kinds of winter items” are big sellers at  the Sal­va­tion Army’s stores, said Maj. John Cran­ford. 

So are toys, he said, adding that the Army makes sure toys are safe and have not been re­called. “We’re very care­ful what we put out,” he said.

The num­ber of cus­tom­ers at Changes, which just opened in mid-Septem­ber, is in­dic­at­ive of how pop­u­lar thrift-store shop­ping has be­come. Diaz es­tim­ated she gets sev­er­al hun­dred cus­tom­ers per week.

Fo­ley and Lun­d­berg said their stores have seen in­creases in shop­pers dur­ing the past few years.

Lun­d­berg ad­ded the up­tick in cus­tom­ers’ num­bers has been ac­com­pan­ied by a no­tice­able de­crease in dona­tions.  Some people might donate five times a year, she said, but some are now be­ing more con­ser­vat­ive.

“People are hold­ing on to their stuff longer,” Lun­d­berg said, adding that Good­will is ap­peal­ing dir­ectly to schools, churches and some com­pan­ies for dona­tions.

The Sal­va­tion Army has ex­per­i­enced just the op­pos­ite. “This has been one of our best years for dona­tions,” Cran­ford said.

Fo­ley hasn’t seen dona­tions drop off. Neither has Diaz. “Our cus­tom­er load has in­creased, and so have dona­tions,” Fo­ley said.

Some dona­tions that come in­to thrift stores are un­usu­al — and ac­ci­dent­al. Fo­ley re­called get­ting beau­ti­fully pre­served and bound notes from a Baptist church’s early days in the 19th cen­tury that the Med­ic­al Mis­sion Sis­ters donated to the Phil­adelphia His­tor­ic­al So­ci­ety.

Lun­d­berg said a bronze statue of Cleo­patra came in­to the Good­will. An em­ploy­ee re­cog­nized that it had some value, and it was sold for thou­sands of dol­lars. A Good­will work­er re­cently found $3,000 in a pair of donated pants. That money was kept for sev­er­al months, but nobody claimed it, Lun­d­berg said.

“We get everything in­clud­ing the kit­chen sink,” said Cran­ford, adding he meant it lit­er­ally. “We get kit­chen sinks, bathtubs and com­modes.”

He said the Army tries to find any­thing in­ad­vert­ently left in donated ma­ter­i­al and re­turn it to the donors. Any­thing of value that is found is kept for a year, Cran­ford said.

Thrift store prices are bey­ond low, Diaz and Changes’ treas­urer Wil­li­am Smith said, adding they want to see cus­tom­ers go away happy and they will make deals to keep them com­ing back. 

“We will ne­go­ti­ate price,” Diaz said. 

Fo­ley can point to dresses tagged for $4 to $10. She said buy­ing chil­dren’s cloth­ing at a thrift store makes good sense for fam­il­ies on tight budgets since chil­dren’s ap­par­el is very pricey in re­tail stores, and es­pe­cially since chil­dren grow out of their clothes so quickly.

Each store has its own pri­cing strategy, but, just like big re­tail­ers, the idea is to keep items flow­ing out to make room for the new­er stuff that’s com­ing in.

“Good­will has a good, bet­ter, best pri­cing sys­tem,” Lun­d­berg said.

For ex­ample, she said, men’s over­coats might start at $8.99 but go to $19.99, based on brand. Lon­don Fog, she said, will be priced a little bit more than something that ori­gin­ated with a dis­count store. Diaz said prices at Changes don’t have a large range.

Elec­tron­ics and fur­niture, shoes and sneak­ers are sold at thrift stores. At Changes, Smith makes some of the fur­niture the store sells.

Any profits thrift stores make go back in­to the non-profits they try to sup­port.

The Med­ic­al Mis­sion Sis­ters do just what their name states, so money brought in by the Pine Road thrift store “sup­ports the Med­ic­al Mis­sion Sis­ters’ work around the world,” Fo­ley said.

Changes donates its money closer to home — to Phil­adelphia drug re­cov­ery houses try­ing to help people beat their ad­dic­tions. The thrift store has con­tracts with vari­ous non-profits, Diaz said, to spon­sor people who can’t af­ford to get in­to re­cov­ery fa­cil­it­ies. ••

Thrifty shop­ping . . .

• The store op­er­ated by Good­will In­dus­tries of South­ern New Jer­sey and Phil­adelphia at 10101 Bustleton Ave. is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Sat­urday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Phone is 215-961-2208. The Web site is www.good­ Dona­tions are ac­cep­ted dur­ing store hours.

• Changes, at 7911 Bustleton Ave., is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Fri­day; and noon to 5 p.m. on Sat­urday. Phone is 215-268-3215. Web site is www.change­sun­lim­ Dona­tions are ac­cep­ted dur­ing store hours.

• The Med­ic­al Mis­sion Sis­ters thrift store, 8400 Pine Road, is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Sat­urday. Phone is 215-745-7930 and the Web site is www.mms­thrift­ Dona­tions are ac­cep­ted dur­ing store hours. The stores sells only small fur­niture items, so large pieces won’t be ac­cep­ted.

• Sal­va­tion Army Fam­ily Stores, 6427 Tor­res­dale Ave. and 6432 Rising Sun Ave., are open Monday through Sat­urday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Dona­tions are ac­cep­ted dur­ing store hours. For large dona­tions like fur­niture, call 1-800-SATRUCK.

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