By CATHERINE MUCCIGROSSO, The Charlotte Observer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — It’s been nearly a decade since rapper Macklemore and Ryan Lewis topped the U.S. music charts with “Thrift Shop” about poppin’ tags and “One man’s trash, that’s another man’s come-up.”
Clearly, they were on to something. In the past decade, the resale apparel has been growing fast, a whopping 215% within an industry that’s overall grown by 24%, according to the latest report by ThredUp, an online thrift store.
And if The Charlotte Observer’s recent 2022 Reader’s Choice best thrift store contest is any indication, our region has a lot of secondhand shopping fans. During the 12-day contest, more than 644,230 votes were cast. People were allowed to vote multiple times.
The winner from the field of 16 stores chosen by readers was The WearHouse, a thrift store that helps fund the bilingual and multicultural nonprofit Camino offering holistic care to the underinsured and uninsured.
“Especially now due to inflation, we’re seeing an increase in thrifting,” Camino spokeswoman Paola Garcia said.
The Charlotte region also has a variety of thrift stores.
The Queen City ranks fifth out 50 cities for having the most number of thrift stores per 100,000 people, according to data from Joybird, a California company that sells new, high-quality furniture.
Earlier this year, Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont said it plans to open 25 retail stores and donation centers over the next five years. The nonprofit serves 18 counties in the Charlotte region in North and South Carolina, providing free job training and employment support programs.
“I think there’s an interest in having a shopping experience that is fun,” said Jose Luis, chief operating officer for the regional Goodwill Industries. “We’re seeing that there are more consumers that are interested in shopping secondhand, especially over the last five years.”
While shopping secondhand saves money, it’s attracting people from all economic levels, said Adele Meyer, executive director of Michigan-based National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops.
“It just keeps trending upward,” she said.
The U.S. resale market is expected to more than double by 2026, reaching $82 billion, compared to last year, according to ThredUp. That’s after resale grew 58% last year, the highest increase in five years.
“I see more younger people thrifting than I used to,” said Sarah Ramberg, who has turned thrift shopping into a career. The Belmont blogger and author said, “It’s become cool for people of all backgrounds.”
Retail industry experts say there are many factors driving the popularity surge, including Gen Z and millennials who are interested in sustainability over “fast fashion” where textiles end up in landfills and seeking positive emotion tied to buying secondhand goods.
“Thrifting has become more acceptable and even a pastime as influencers on social media showcase new outfits gleaned from thrift stores,” said Cindy Fox, marketing and retail expert professor at UNC Charlotte Belk College of Business. “The desire for a more unique look also supports thrift stores as more younger people create an ensemble including vintage clothing.”
The Charlotte-region Goodwill saw an 18% rise in customers at its stores from 902,526 in 2020 to 1.06 million last year, according to the nonprofit. Inflation and the COVID pandemic are helping to spur secondhand sales.
“Since COVID started our numbers have significantly increased,” said Susan Ross, director of development for Matthews HELP Center & Backporch Treasures Thrift Shop in Matthews. “People are looking for better deals.”
INFLATION AND PANDEMIC EFFECT
Whenever there is a downturn in the economy, there’s always a significant increase of interest in thrift retail because the industry gets more publicity, Meyer said.
“I think this time it was more significant because of what everybody went through during the pandemic,” Meyer said. The pandemic changed consumer shopping habits and people reset priorities, clearing out closets and their homes to make room for homeschooling and offices.
“More people discovered this during the pandemic because the resale industry didn’t have supply chain issues — because they’re selling merchandise that already exists,” Meyer said. “The stores had plenty of inventory.”
Goodwill, for example, has been able to provide consistency in merchandise and pricing, Luis said.
But the economy is also impacting thrift store retail in another way. The main problem is getting and retaining employees, Meyer said.
ADDING STORES AND NEW CONCEPT
Recently, Goodwill opened one of its largest stores in the country in Shelby, less than 50 miles west of Charlotte, relocating to 1005 E. Dixon Blvd. It’s the second location in the Southern Piedmont with the new store concept following Rockingham’s debut in April.
Along with a traditional Goodwill store, the two new stores each have a rentable community room, a locally-owned cafe, and Goodwill’s gaming and electronics tech store, The GRID. Both stores are in former Lidl supermarket locations that are each about 36,000-square-feet.
“It’s all part of an experience,” Luis said. “One of the best benefits of having the relationship with these third parties that are operating the cafes is that it’s part of the Goodwill mission — to enable people to succeed with employment, and these are small businesses.”
Last year, Goodwill generated nearly $63 million last year from its 25 retail stores and 30 donation sites, and served 6,112 people. The regional Goodwill employs over 900 workers at its stores, donation and career centers, and offices.
Just this year, Goodwill has or will open six stores, including Shelby’s relocation. Recently, two traditional stores opened at Idlewild and Wendover roads in Charlotte. Two more stores will open: Sept. 23 in Denver and Oct. 28 at Ballantyne – East.
For comparison, Goodwill opened only one store in 2019 in Fort Mill, S.C., and none last year.
“We’re looking at different opportunities to serve our communities,” Luis said. Goodwill opened one of its largest stores in the country in Shelby, less than 50 miles west of Charlotte, on Aug. 26 at 1005 E. Dixon Blvd.
Not all secondhand shops are nonprofits, but they still offer customers feel-good benefits. Plus the resale industry isn’t like a convenience store, which all carry similar merchandise and price points, Meyer said. Each shop is different.
For example, she said some of the association’s more than 1,000 members, which includes consignment and vintage resale stores, may sell $5 handbags while others sell used Birkins for $75,000.
“It’s just such a good industry for consumers whether they want to save money or donate goods and tax benefits,” Meyer said. “It’s an industry that works both ways to the advantage of consumers.”
But for nonprofits, donations and retail revenue help fund their causes.
“When we can get these donated goods and provide services free of charge, that’s an amazing combination,” Luis said. And when someone finds a store they like, they stop in often. “It’s like a gift every day,” Meyer said. “I call it the thrill of the hunt, and it’s exciting when you find something that you love at good price.”
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