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.goodwillnj.org. 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.changesunlimited.org. 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.mmsthriftshop.org. 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.