Friday, January 11, 2013

Gentrification of thrift stores

I have been a fan and customer of thrift stores for a long long time.  Probably this is due to my  interest in things that have been discarded or abandoned.  When I was a boy the collection of garbage was common only in metropolitan areas.  Rural communities had no such program.  The outcome was the appearance of dumps on remote  fields or wood lots.    My brother and I learned that these dumps held treasure for our use in games and play.  It was as much fun to look through the jumble of things no longer regarded as useful  as it was to sort through the boxes and crowded shelves of the first generation of thrift stores.
I don't recall where or when I entered my first thrift store but I saw quickly that it was a good place to buy books.  They were cheaper than second-hand bookstores and contained a variety of titles to compete with them.  Without a doubt, I have purchased more than one thousand books from thrifts over the years. 
As time passed I saw thrift stores begin to improve their appearance and expand their inventory of things for sale.  Kitchenware, electronics, vinyl records, clothing, tools, etc, etc.  And I began to purchase these items as well.  Not only because I saved money.  I like things that have been well-made and well-used and to give them a second life is to fully appreciate the purposes of design and craft.
The first big change occurred in the seventies (if my memory is working) when the craze for collectibles began.  There was a sudden interest in nostalgia and many things once considered cheaply bought and personally useless became valuable things to own and to resell.
Charities began to rent store fronts and to plead for donations for resale.  The monthly take in some stores exceeded six months sales in the original part-time thrift shops.
Regular customers began to notice that upscale automobiles were appearing in the parking lot.  People who owned Cadillacs and Lincolns and Mercedes were shopping in thrift stores.  To meet the needs of this new customer, thrifts gave a section of the store over to something called a Boutique.  Here there were chairs to sit in.  There was more room between the displays and racks.  The clothing had been culled and the best articles were sold in the Boutique.  At higher prices, of course.
Hardcover books that once sold for 50 cents began to follow the new trend and were one dollar each.  Today they are either two dollars or three dollars  And they aren't old anymore.
Now  twelve thrift stores, in three neighboring towns in two of the richest counties in America, have created an association.  They are uniting to find new ways to 'improve' their stores and increase their profits.  One way now being used is the issuance of coupons offering 15% or 10% off purchases.  Just like real stores!
The Association is sponsoring an event. A trolley will spend an 8 hour day tour of these local thrifts.  There are 30 seats available at a cost of $30 per person.  The price includes a box lunch.
For me, this development marks the end of the thrift shop as a source for low income people.  It is an example, admittedly small, of how the piece of the economic pie that belonged to the poor continues to shrink.  Wealth continues to move away from the poor toward the well-off.

1 comment:

  1. I grew up in the most wealthy neighborhood in Denver, and we and others regularly went to them looking for nice clothing at absurdly low prices.

    My favorite was a store run by the symphony and ballet because of the clothing was typically much better than found at the common type thrift stores. I could purchase a suite for $10 and have it altered to fit. I still have about 40 suits packed away ready for use.

    I still shop at them, the shoes I'm currently wearing came from the thrift store.