Merchants Ready For National Thrift Shop Day

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Plastic bins of thrift-store donations overflow beneath the table where Marjorie Morrison, assistant manager of the Senior Center Thrift Shop, sits.

It's the good stuff: blouses, vests, jeans, T-shirts, even first-edition books and jewelry.

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Eva Prychodnik, an 18-year thrift store veteran, displays designer clothing and higher-end items in the Senior Center Thrift Shop boutique.

But the items are on lockdown, at least until Thursday, Aug. 17, when the thrift community celebrates National Thrift Shop Day with special sales.

"We learned the hard way," Morrison said. "We don't put our merchandise out until the night before."

"(Customers) come in the day before and case us," added store manager Marian Barber.

That's because used, affordable and vintage items are in.

And profitable.

Bargain-conscious shoppers seeking refuge from today's inflation-sensitive marketplace have made resale big business.

The National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops reported a 5-percent annual industry growth spurt. Goodwill Industries, comprised of 2,000 outlets, generated nearly $1.4 billion in sales in 2004 -- a small slice of the 20,000 thrift and consignment stores nationwide.

"Payson has a great thrift store community," said Connie Rust, in her baby-pink volunteer smock, manager of Mogollon Health Alliance's Almost New Shop.

"My whole house is decorated in thrift shop items."

The resale business is an art, and it's all about what Barber -- a Midwesterner -- calls "dickering," also known as "haggling" west of the Mississippi River.

Barber said her customers love to bargain; some shop just to wrangle down prices.

A haggler's tip: Check the item for dings.

Damage gives shoppers bargaining leverage.

"Don't ever pay the tag price," Barber said. "Make your best offer. People get the biggest kick out of it."

The Deft Shopper

Thrift stores have evolved beyond the musty, raggedy-clothing, broken-TV repositories of the past.

Eva Prychodnik, an 18-year veteran of the Senior Center Thrift Shop, keeps herself busy by folding clothes behind a glass case. She's seen the thrift industry change over the years.

"You can get clothes much cheaper and good quality," said Prychodnik. "Where else can you find clothes so reasonable?"

And some savvy consumers are making small fortunes on others' rejects. They compare prices on eBay; educate themselves by watching do-it-yourself television programs such as PBS' "Antique Road Show" and "Cash in the Attic" on the Home and Garden network; and dig through junk, looking for that unknown, yet priceless relic.

Barber remembers selling an original painting for $80 to a customer who later returned to tell her that it was appraised at $2,000.

Even though thrift stores --mostly nonprofit operations --stock cleaner, more specialized merchandise, such as antiques, they deal with an age-old stigma.

"We get nice things, but people won't pay the price because it's a ‘thrift store' item," Barber said. "I don't want to cheat people, but I also don't want to be cheated."

Stylish affordability

After all, thrift shopping is about variety and value.

That's what once-a-week Time Out patron Larry Bauer said as he picked through belts.

For the guys, shopping is a search-and-destroy mission; the ladies browse. Women's clothing -- especially designer brands -- flies off the racks.

"We have a lot of women shoppers," Morrison said. "They like to change their wardrobes. Women want something different and cheap."

Furniture and kitchen appliances move quickly as well.

"Tons of knickknacks," said Time Out Thrift Store Assistant Manager Anita Steward. "We put out stuff all day long. As soon as we get it in, we put it out."

Formal wear, fancy dresses and men's clothing, specifically suits, tend to hang around longer.

"I think men wear their clothes until they drop off," Barber said.

Donating items

The resale stores in Payson choose and display their items wisely. Some donors treat thrift stores as dumpsters, and that's not right, Rust said.

"No junk. It has to be sellable. After garage sales, people dump off their rejects, a lot of dirty items," she said.

Every thrift store in Payson accepts working-household electronics.

Time Out and Almost New welcome large appliances.

"We get a lot of wonderful things from estate sales," said Almost New volunteer, Judy Rolle.

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