Thrift Stores Running Out Of Pants

For thrift stores, business is both better, and worse, than ever. Sales are high, but donations are running low. Customer behavior is changing in the new economic climate:

Mr. Brickson, of Minnesota, said a longtime donor to his store had recently showed up in tears. “She had given so much to the Salvation Army over the years,” he said. “She never thought she was going to be a recipient of the services.”

Thrift Shops Thriving, but Running Low on Stock [NYT] (Thanks to c-side!) (Photo: Scurzuzu)

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  1. ChuckECheese says:

    Phoenix AZ is experiencing a boom in Goodwill store openings. A friend owns a bar in a retail area where the anchor grocery closed, and a Goodwill just moved in to replace it. He’s angry about it. I recommended that he start serving Milwaukee’s Best Ice on tap.

  2. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot says:

    What bugs me is there is a chain here called Value Village that takes in donations from people in the community (and even solicits the donations in the local newspapers) and then charges outrageous prices for the donated clothing. I’ve seen used t-shirts, just your normal fruit-of-the-loom or other plain one-color shirts – nothing fancy about them at all, for $7 each when you can buy them brand new at WalMart, or Sears for $5. The last time I was there I happened to spot a simple top and skirt set, that was just plain black cotton with a little blue lace trim on the collar. The price tag was $22. Its insane and I won’t shop there anymore. I go to the Sally Ann instead.

    • dragonfire81 says:

      @Neecy: Value Village, is I believe a Canadian chain (at least they have outlets in Canada).

      In my experience the prices vary widely by store. In the small town I lived in, the value village prices were great, but in the next larger town over, they were inexplicably a lot higher.

      The Goodwill stores are almost always reasonable as are the Salvation Army Thrift stores.

  3. Value Village is a for-profit thrift store chain. They take donations in the names of various charities and yes, the charities do get some money (and the advantage of not having to run their own stores). Still, their prices are higher, sometimes much higher, than small one-of thrift stores or the Goodwill or St. Vincent de Paul.

    I only shop VV on $.99 Mondays.

  4. MayorBee says:

    This is a clear cut case of supply side economics. Obviously, if we get rid of the supply, i.e. drugs, pirated music, or second-hand clothes, the users, i.e. addicts, pirates, and poor people, won’t demand the products anymore. So we just need to criminalize the Salvation Army and Goodwill stores and our war on poverty will be almost won, exactly like our war on drugs and war on piracy.

    Yes, the preceding was sarcasm. There’s nothing wrong with buying from Goodwill or the Salvation Army stores, even if you’re not poor. You might find a good deal and the profits go to helping others. It’s win-win.

  5. illtron says:

    Best thing I ever found at a thrift store: A brand new (it still smelled like screen printing) Pink Floyd Division Bell tour T-shirt. Now, this wasn’t official merch — it was from the parking lot bootleggers, which made it an even better find. Unfortunately, I misplaced it somewhere at my parents’ house. I think it’s still there somewhere. I need to find that shirt.

    A close second would be the vintage handmade green velvet jacket. It didn’t come close to fitting me, so I’d let my friends wear it on St. Patrick’s Days in college. Good times.

  6. Heresy Of Truth says:

    @Neecy I used to work at Value Village quite a few years back. They gave 52 cents to charity for every two paper grocery bags worth of stuff they got. That didn’t include furniture, and the like, which charity got nothing for. I don’t know if that has changed recently, or not.

    It’s definitely a profit driven place. I recommend Goodwill, Salvation Army, St. Vincents, and the like, instead.

  7. bangbangbonnie says:

    Best bargain I have ever found was a book called Black Bondage: A Novel of the Doomed Negro in Today’s South, first edition (1959) in excellent, like-new shape.

    Not only is it a really cool read, but it is worth well over $100 and I paid 78 cents for it.

    Also, one time, I found a working accordion.

  8. nsv says:

    Goodwill stores around here have gone “boutique”. They look like boutiques, they don’t have much in the way of useful junk, and clothes start at about $10 and go way, way up from there.

    The only Salvation Army store I know of near here sells only furniture.

    If it weren’t for the smaller local charity thrift stores I’d have to go naked.

  9. RedmondDesomma says:

    Thrift stores sometimes have useful stuff, but for clothes I really like the
    grass-roots clothes swaps. Selection is only limited by number of people
    invited and their styles. (Groups of friends and/or acquaintances, everyone
    brings a full bag to donate, can leave with an equal size bag or their own
    stuff… whatever’s left is donated to thrift.) The best prices I’ve found
    with for-profit thrift are at church rummage sales. The best deal I found
    at a church sale was a magnificent (vintage handtatted lace) Mexican wedding
    dress for $12. (Alas, I was too tall.)

    • Princess Leela says:

      @RedmondDesomma: Went to my first clothing swap a few months back and am a total convert. I’ve worn every item I swapped for (well, except the shoes, ’cause it’s not the right season for them yet) on a regular basis–which is more than I can say for some clothes I buy new, get home, and decide I don’t so much like.

  10. fisherstudios says:

    Pants are overrated

  11. purplesun says:

    [www.nopantsday.com]

    Participation is going to skyrocket next year.

  12. battra92 says:

    This is good timing I suppose. I have a whole closet full of trousers to donate since I lost 2 inches.

    I have found a lot less at my local Goodwill lately. I don’t buy used clothes (nothing wrong with it, I just don’t do it)

    And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. – 1 Corinthians 13:2

  13. bohemian says:

    I still find some decent items. The biggest problem here is there are so many people that live on whatever Walmart sells. So the offerings are used Walmart clothes and particle board furniture. There are a few thrift stores in the area that get decent items though.

    The bigger score is at the consignment stores. The people that bought expensive clothes they couldn’t afford on credit are trying to get some money back out of them.

  14. trellis23 says:

    Salvation army has frequently been overpriced as well (again with the $7 stained tshirts) on basic stuff. But a great deal on not so basic stuff, i.e. business attire, dresses, furniture, etc. However, here in MA, they’ve shut down all over the place. Many, in the areas that need them most, citing that they could no longer afford the rent. There are the Yellow Drop boxes for clothes, which I see people using all the time, but no place to GET clothes if you need them, which is utterly ridiculous. I’ve stopped dropping my clothes in donation bins, because I have no idea what’s happening to them….. I hold them until I hear of a church doing a clothing drive, or drive out of my way to find a GOOD goodwill store.

  15. loueloui says:

    Man do i hate for profit ‘thrift’ stores. A lot of them in this area were putting misleading, and false signage on their collection boxes.

    I think thrift shopping is somewhat overrated. I went to buy a cheap couch from Salvation Army, and the only one which was even approaching decent was $350 dollars, and it looked like it was right out of the ’50s.

  16. sockrockinbeats says:

    most of my clothes and a decent amount of my household stuff are from thrift stores. i think it’s insane to pay $25 for a pair of pants when you can get a pair for $5 just because someone wore em a few times.

  17. SkokieGuy says:

    I am a huge shopper at http://www.shopgoodwill.com which is an online version of goodwill. Recent scores include three Hugo Boss dress shirts for $12.00, lots of pants (NWT = New With Tags) for $5 – $6 bucks each , artwork, antiques and lots more. You do pay shipping, but no tax if the Goodwill location is not in your state.

    It is an auction site, like ebay, where you bid an amount and try to win the item. And you can pay with credit cards, no evil PayPal.

    Warning, it is addictive.

  18. narf says:

    Haven’t seen any general shortage of stuff around here … yet. 12+ years of shopping at thrift stores, it’s all a hit-and-miss anyways. It’s not like I’m shopping for things I truly need anyways … just better stuff than what I have. My $8 Toastmaster coffee maker works, but $8 for a Cuisinart is very justifiable too. [www.cuisinart.com]

    Like my $3 bread machine, this one was barely used too.

    Specific shortages, though … yeah. It’s been over a year (and 200+ visits to over 30 different thrift stores) since I found any Animaniacs shirts. No fault to the stores, of course … just seems that folks haven’t been giving them up or I’ve been to all the wrong places over all these years. In the dozen years, from Portland, OR to San Diego, CA, I’ve only ran across (and bought, of course) about 20.

  19. ElizabethD says:

    Here in RI a “charity” clothing collector was interviewed. His company puts the big bins that say “Donate Clothing” in various locations. People assume their donated clothing will be sold in thrift stores to help a charity. I hope to god no one is dropping designer cocktail dresses in those bins, because this company simply gathers up huge amounts of donated clothes, compresses and bales them, and ships them overseas; he is paid by the pound or ton or whatever.

  20. zibby says:

    Well…I suppose I could bring in a few pairs of Minnesota Vikings Zubaz to help out; the ones I have in 44-inch waist have been a bit snug lately.

  21. DashTheHand says:

    If you’re a savvy shopper, you can still buy brand new clothes dirt cheap. JC Penney’s near me was selling huge racks of shirts and pants for $5 marked down from $50. In the womens department, my girlfriend found $50 clothes selling for $1.97.

    • Etoiles says:

      @DashTheHand: Ah, yes. My grandmother’s often-espoused philosophy, handed down to my mother and now me:

      “Any damn fool can pay full price.”

      I was 23 before I realized that buying clothes from something other than the clearance rack was, technically, an option.

  22. 85% of my wardrobe (excluding bras and panties) comes straight from Salvo. And I don’t wear casual clothes for the most part, I’m a professional working in an office building. Nobody has a clue.

    Salvation Army is my Clothes God.

  23. I don’t know how many large trash bags of clothing I’ve donated. I never go thrift shopping any more mostly because I rarely go clothes shopping, but my grandma used to take me to thrift stores and such when I was a kid. Good times :(

  24. fizzyg says:

    Our Goodwills are crap. Being that I live in a poorer area anyway, it’s not as if they are reselling fine items; it’s mostly discount store items that sell at nearly the same price as new. They actually get overstock from Target’s clearance and sell it for around 1/3 of the original price (even though you know it went clearance for 75% off that original price before they got rid of it).

  25. themikebrown says:

    “She had given so much to the Salvation Army over the years,” he said. “She never thought she was going to be a recipient of the services.”

    Yeah, because you’re a horrible human being if you shop at a thrift store. I wish people would get over that ignorance. You don’t have to be poor to shop at a thrift store. I personally love going there, because you can find all sorts of interesting clothing (as well as furniture, electronics and other things) there. I used to dress in the ugly out of style look, so I really dug being able to find old suits and dress pants that looked like something a 70’s used car salesmen would wear.

    • SkokieGuy says:

      @Mikebrown: Mike, no reason to blame or criticize the OP for insinuations she never made.

      When I read that the woman “never thought she’d shop there”, I took it as no slight to people who shop there, but that the woman’s economic circumstances have changed so drastically that she HAS to shop there.

      Yes, many people choose to shop at Goodwill and thrift stores, who don’t have to, but a significant number of thrift store shoppers are there because finances limit their choices. In today’s economy, clearly more people are having to shop at thrift stores, the OP included.

      And patronizing Goodwill and thrift stores does not mean only “interesting” or otherwise tacky clothes, i.e. your ’70’s car salesman look’. Many of us Goodwill fans (in my case, fortunately by choice) has enable me to have a staggeringly huge wardrobe of high quality, expensive name brand and designer clothing.

    • goldenmonkey says:

      @Mikebrown: So are you saying poor people are horrible human beings?

  26. wellfleet says:

    There is a chain called Plato’s Closet that sells gently used name-brand clothing for very decent prices, and they’ll pay for your old stuff. You bring in your clothes, they pick whatever they want, then pay you what they deem it’s worth. Of course, they then turn around and put a 300-500% markup on it. They picked up 3 pairs of jeans I brought in, retail value about $450, gave me $49. I then saw my stuff on sale for $50-$60. Whatever they didn’t take I took to the Goodwill Store.

    You all should check out a Freecycle group in your town. It’s a good way to donate or seek a donation (it must be free of any cost) and I hear it’s a great way to find kids’ clothes.

  27. rework says:

    Thrift stores are great, but for the best deals, I stay away from the big names chains like Goodwill or Salvation army. And even then, some are better than others.

    Timing is important. The good items go fast. More often than not, I don’t find anything interesting… but just this weekend I snagged 3 pairs of dress pants and a pair of Levis for under $10. I look good today! lol

  28. HogwartsAlum says:

    I have a hard time finding clothing at thrift stores or flea markets (except t-shirts) because I’m a nearly six-foot-tall woman. Nothing fits. Hell, I can’t even find anything to wear in the regular store!

    Most of my household stuff comes from the flea market, however. And I donate clothing when I can.

  29. oldheathen says:

    I found a local thrift store which funds a homeless shelter that still has bins of clothing for a quarter. They way overprice the crap furniture that gets donated, but they have a lot of nice household items and even framed art for <$8.

    The place is hog heaven, but I learned not to go there when the locals gets their welfare/SSI check because it’s a madhouse. Those folks will buy anything and everything they can heap into their cart, high on thrill of shopping again, I guess.

    I’ve also seen many a Jag-driving country-club type there, too, looking for the Antiques Roadshow find of the year. :P

  30. balthisar says:

    I love stopping in an shopping in my local Salvation Army, typically in the kitchen and dining areas. I’m always looking out for expensive (but beat up) knives. Cast iron (skillets, Dutch ovens) are especially common and cheap. My favorite stainless steel sautee pan came from there. And when I don’t mind the effort, my totally awesome, 1970’s popcorn popper came from there (although I normally just toss some kernels into a paper lunch bag and use the microwave — no oil, no mess, no effort).

    The furniture is usally not something that I’d consider, and the pieces that I would consider already seem to have “sold” signs on them!

    I’ve never seriously considered shopping there for clothes, though. Maybe I should reconsider?

  31. dragonfire81 says:

    I have no qualms whatsoever about shopping thrift. I am saving money and in most cases helping to support a charitable cause.

    A lot of new clothes are ridiculously overpriced anyway.

  32. GOLD5 says:

    Maybe the fact that there are 20 times more stores that do this now is the reason why there are “less” donations. The donations are being spread across too many stores. They used to just have Goodwill and Sally Ann, but now there are many Value Villages and other corporat-ized versions of the idea. When your supplier is the same size (citizens) but there are more and more outlets, that will definitely hurt your stock. As well, Value Village will take anything, say thank-you and maybe throw it out after you leave. The Goodwill stores in my area have a reputation for snootily looking through everything you bring to them and refusing to take 90% of it, which is not what you went there expecting.

    • sophistiKate says:

      @GOLD5: That drives me CRAZY. I do not bring dirty clothing to Goodwill. I do not bring broken appliances or electronics. I do not bring garbage because I understand the concept: stuff they can resell. So WHAT are they looking for?

      In Portland, Maine I find Salvation Army far more accommodating than Goodwill in that respect.

      • madanthony says:

        @sophistiKate:

        I’ve found the same thing here in Baltimore. Several years ago when I moved out of my college apartment, my roomates and I loaded up all our old furniture and took it to Goodwill. They wouldn’t take most of it because they evidently won’t take anything that’s upholstered and has a minor stain, because “it could be blood”.

        So we took everything else to the Salvation Army, and not only did they take it, they seemed very glad to get it.

    • temporaryerror says:

      @GOLD5:
      When I was preparing to move away from St Louis, I went to the big Goodwill near my apt to donate all my furniture, with the expectation that it would be no problem. They took all my wood furniture, but turned up their noses at my 2 leather sofas. They were a bit scratched up but in decent shape and very comfy. I went to Value Village and they took them with out a second look…Probably marked them at $50, but at that point I just wanted to get rid of it so I didn’t have to move it. Oh, the GW was in a nice neighborhood, and always had expensive cars in the parking lot.

    • bohemian says:

      @GOLD5: Our local Goodwill started going this too. I don’t take things down that they can’t actually resell. If it is that worn out it goes in the trash. But I have gotten the same treatment of someone riffling through boxes in an accusatory manner like I am doing something bad by bringing them donations. So I take things to either the YMCA thrift or Savers simply to avoid the hostile hassle.

  33. courtneywoah says:

    The Salvation Army here (in Amherst Ma) is wayyyy over priced. I won’t shop there anymore because I think its ridiculous how much they want to charge for second hand goods.

  34. cerbie says:

    I’ve never gotten or shopped for used clothes (I still have 10-year old shirts I wear around the house and to do dirty work with, and usually buy at outlet stores), but I’ve noticed that there seems to be better quality furniture at the thrift stores around here (no idea why), and small appliance donations have dried up almost completely.

    • narf says:

      @cerbie: Small appliance donations dry up because all the stuff these days is CRAP! Our 1985 vintage, made in the USA Toastmaster toaster finally kicked the bucket earlier this year. The made in China replacement – dead in 5 months.

      The Goodwill stores around here usually do a quick check of functionality before they set it out and offer a 7-day exchange on all electrics. The local Salvation Army has a 14 day on appliances. Smaller stores, usually caveat emptor.

      That all said, whether a store does or doesn’t accept certain stuff is very dependent on the one taking it in and their perspective. I’ve seen some pure junk still being accepted and decent stuff turned away.

  35. othium says:

    I LOVE thrift stores!

    Recently I have noticed that there has been not as many donations and the stock is so-so. Still I have found the clothes and items I need so I don’t have to buy new.

    My apartment is decorated entirely from thrift store purchases. Recently found a great 1950’s Laurel floor lamp with dual gooseneck lights on top (very Jetson-looking) and one of the best finds was an Ib Kofod-Larsen designed chair imported by Selig. So comfortable – and was only around seven bucks!

    • battra92 says:

      @othium: My apartment is decorated entirely from thrift store purchases. Recently found a great 1950’s Laurel floor lamp with dual gooseneck lights on top (very Jetson-looking) and one of the best finds was an Ib Kofod-Larsen designed chair imported by Selig. So comfortable – and was only around seven bucks!

      Don’t you love finds like that? Sadly with the exception of a generic desk lamp for $4 and a Griswold skillet (which I may sell) for $2. I haven’t been in a while so I should check them out again.

  36. notfromaroundhere says:

    Practically my entire house is furnished with thrift store furniture. This has also enabled me to teach myself how to reupholster – as the stuff is cheap, and usually very well made, I have no qualms about taking something apart.
    I also have multiple pairs of ’40’s barkcloth curtains in excellent condition.
    You really just have to be willing to take the time to look carefully.

  37. quail says:

    Blame the chic factor of second hand clothing that raised the prices across the board. Faded jeans, worn concert t’s, distressed Polo’s, etc. SV and GW seem to be the higher priced thrift stores. Add $2 to their price for kids jeans and I was able to buy a new pair at Target.

    We have a local charity that runs thrift stores throughout town and I much prefer them over the national charity groups. Both in donating and buying from they provide a better experience. Reasonable prices, and friendlier staff.

    Surprised I didn’t see it reported here, but a good deal of clothe donations go overseas and to third world countries. Charities have done it for years. They can get more money for the clothes than they can from the thrift store.

  38. gqcarrick says:

    There used to be a goodwill where I live but it closed recently. The Salvation Army store always has a TON of stuff in their back room, but it seems the good stuff never makes it to the show room because workers seem to shuffle off with it or give it away to friends.

  39. sardonicbastard says:

    Wait, someone actually cried at a Salvation Army store because they had to shop there? Give me a friggin break!! While you might have to work a little to find good stuff there, it’s certainly possible. I was at a store last year looking for stuff for a halloween costume, and found some jeans. With the sale they were running, I ended up getting them for 5 bucks… and they’re the most comfortable and best fitting pair of pants I own.

    People really, really need to get rid of the stigma that used things are tainted. If the current economic situation causes more people to go to stores like this, I say it is a GOOD thing. The current policy of consumption certainly makes more money flow through the economy, but that is a BAD thing for the consumer. High consumption is not good, smart consumption is.

    • RStewie says:

      @sardonicbastard: It’s not about the shopping there. It’s about the HAVING to shop there. Realizing that you’re shopping at the Goodwill/Salvation Army/Thrift Store because you HAVE to, and not because you’re hoping for a good find, will slap you in the face with your changed circumstances, and that realization WILL bring you to tears.

      Especially in a case like the OP’s where it’s evident by her giving to charity that she was not in strained circumstances before.

  40. glitterpig says:

    The trick is to donate to Goodwills in poor areas (they never pick through your stuff) and buy from Goodwills in nicer areas. (Although I’ll second the “don’t be an asshole” part – if it’s garbage, throw it out yourself, don’t make Goodwill do it for you.) GW used to run a boutique near my mom’s house called The Secret Closet or something like that where you could buy fur coats in like-new condition for $15.

    I don’t shop at Salvation Army ’cause of their hiring policy, but around here they’re the ones with the stuff Goodwill won’t take, so it’s not much of a sacrifice.

  41. ideagirl says:

    …hence my current pants-less state.

  42. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    No one wants to be poor. I bet the woman who was crying at the Salvation Army got to the point in which she couldn’t afford clothing at a department store, or thought she might get better quality at SA rather than at Target or Wal-Mart.

    JC Penney, despite their clothes not being the greatest quality, has lots of “buy one, get one for 1 cent” sales. If you really need new clothes, there’s your chance to possibly get more bang for the buck, especially if you only want new clothes.

    • battra92 says:

      @IHaveAFreezeRay: Penny’s is great because they actually make clothing that fit me. Though since losing weight I might be able to go elsewhere.

      But I did find a pair of cargo trousers for $4 there the other day. Just gotta watch the sales and clearance racks is all.

      @DamThatRiver: Not much for video games at my local ones. I think I’ve cleaned the area out …

  43. DePaulBlueDemon says:

    I volunteered at a homeless shelter last winter. They happily accept donations of clothing, household goods, furniture, etc. in order to assist the truly unfortunate.

    It was my responsibility to drive around Chicagoland to pick up people’s donations from the curb. I could not believe some of the things I had to drag back to the shelter. Seriously, charities are NOT the same thing as your garbage pick up. No one wants your 20-year-old coffee maker with a frayed cord… Nobody!

  44. DamThatRiver says:

    I collect older video games (mostly Atari, NES, Super NES, and Sega Genesis), and I’ve made a lot of great finds at the thrifts over the years.

    I’ve also scored brand new Nikes – which makes this even more awesome is that I’m a size 15. I’m not really a thrift store clothes shopper though, but I almost always look through the t-shirts just in case there’s a great find waiting to be had.

  45. othium says:

    One of the best reasons I shop at thrift stores is the fact that I can find good outdoor clothing and gear for a fraction of the price that they are sold in major retail stores. I was able to buy breathable, waterproof pants for under $10 and also found a Trek bicycle rack for $1.99 in the same trip. (Decided to bike commute to and starting this spring and being able to afford things that help make the ride easier has helped to keep me from giving up and buying another car.)

    I don’t know how I could manage without these types of stores. New clothes are much too expensive for me as I am way too rough on them at work. Having cheap, disposable sources of these items has been a lifeline.

    (That and being able to make the ol’ pad look awesome – to me at least..heh. I’m a sucker for the 70’s, loud colors..)

  46. evixir says:

    Can’t shop at Salvation Army since they discriminate against gays; I just can’t in good conscience give them money for their cause or donate things to help further their mission with that in mind.

    I donated seventeen bags of stuff to the ARC in Minneapolis when I left town and they took every last thing. I was so grateful. None of it was garbage, but nor did I want them to leave behind things they deemed unworthy of selling.

    I have been an avid thrift shopper for years, whenever possible. I don’t usually look at the clothing all that often since I have way too much as it is, opting more for the books and crafts and housewares, but a good friend of mine has consistently found excellent jeans and other clothing. Nobody should turn up their nose at this sort of thing.