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Thrift stores are thriving in spite of economy

Publication: The Southampton Press
By Vera Chinese   Aug 5, 2009 12:48 PM

The selection of Louis Vuitton handbags, Chanel loafers and BCBG cardigans might fool some shoppers at the East End Hospice Thrift Shop into thinking that they are actually perusing the racks of a high-end Hamptons retail store.

But the deeply discounted rates and motley assortment of merchandise offered at the Westhampton Beach store quickly remind patrons that they are also helping a good cause. That’s because all of the shop’s proceeds benefit East End Hospice’s Camp Good Grief, a summer day camp offered on Shelter Island that is open to children who have suffered the loss of a loved one.

“We’re like a thrift boutique,” said store manager Pat Milloski in a recent interview.

The Old Riverhead Road thrift shop is able to offer its merchandise at highly discounted rates because its inventory is entirely made up of donated items. For instance, one shopper remarked that she found a mint condition Joan & David skirt with a retail value of $100 for only $25.

In a troubled economy, many people are watching what they spend and the East End’s thrift stores are proving to be places where some can purchase high-quality clothes, furniture and housewares at discounted rates. The expression “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure” rings true especially in the Hamptons, where it seems that wealthy residents are willing to part with quality merchandise that they no longer need as long as the proceeds go toward a good cause.

Many thrift and consignment shop owners and managers report that they are doing well in these troubled economic times, mainly because they do not purchase their merchandise and have low payroll costs. Also, they observed that the demand for discounted goods has increased in recent months as the economy soured.

Ms. Milloski said that both the number of donations and customers entering the store have remained strong in the past year. East End Hospice’s Chief Financial Officer Sandra Ogris said this week that her shop has generated 21 percent more income than it had at this time last year, though she declined to release actual figures.

The families of former Hospice patients frequently donate to the shop as a way to say thank you for the services that the organization has provided to their loved ones. Employees say the frequent donations help keep the store’s stock fresh, and bring back repeat customers.

“It doesn’t look like the same old thing they were sold last week,” said East End Hospice Thrift Store employee Kimberly Murawski.

Many other thrift store managers agree that their shops are not suffering from the recent credit crunch.

Maureen Engel, who runs the Southampton Hospital Thrift Shop on Main Street in Southampton Village, said the lagging economy has had virtually no effect on her shop, even though it relocated into a smaller building in October 2008.

“We’ve been doing quite well,” Ms. Engel said. “Donations have not slowed down that much.”

In June 2008, the store sold $12,500 worth of merchandise while this past June, it sold about $15,500. However, the shop sold about $175,000 worth of merchandise in 2008, which was approximately $15,000 less than what it had been averaging the last few years.

The store, which raises money for the Meeting House Lane hospital, frequently gets donations of expensive and designer items. Ms. Engel noted that this year someone purchased a Hermes purse, which retailed for about $15,000, for approximately $2,000.

She added that the recession has actually helped the store and has brought in people who might not have ordinarily gone bargain hunting.

“We had a group of four women and they looked like they did not shop in thrift shops,” Ms. Engel said. “They said ‘this recession shopping is fantastic.’”

Barbara Kujawski, who manages the Dominican Sisters thrift shop on Montauk Highway in Hampton Bays, said her store has also experienced an upswing in customer traffic.

“Everybody is shopping for bargains,” she said.

She noted that this past winter her store saw a decrease in donations, but when the temperature rose, so did the contributions. She speculated that people during the current recession are taking an inventory of what they have and realizing that they can make do with less. “They’re cleaning out their closets,” she said.

Ms. Kujawski said her shop serves a lot of Latino immigrants, including many who are looking for men’s work clothes. “We get very few men’s jeans, because men wear their jeans until they fall apart.”

She added that her shop is always on the lookout for gently used T-shirts, jeans, and waterproof boots and shoes.

The East End’s second-hand industry is doing so well that even brand new businesses are thriving.

Theresa Fontana, the owner of the Lily Pad, a new consignment shop on Jessup Avenue in Quogue, said her store is doing very well despite the economic downturn. Ms. Fontana pointed to her mostly volunteer staff, the low cost of inventory and the sheer amount of energy she has put into the shop to explain its success.

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always a great deal there.
By Johnny Nova (83), Northampton on Aug 5, 09 8:51 PM
not despite of, because of.
By C Law (289), Water Mill on Aug 6, 09 5:19 AM
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