Thrift Stores Thrive After COVID | Local News

MOULTONBOROUGH – This cottage industry started in an empty bay of a mechanical garage.

Its rotating inventory now includes high fashion clothing, vacation home furnishings on the lake, hiking shoes created by designer Prada, Coach wallets, and unique treasures such as the box-shaped musical instrument. in wood. which was resold on eBay, raising $ 450 to buy food.

Today, the Lake District Pantry and Thrift Store is a pint-sized business with a gallon-sized mission. Its voucher system of providing furniture and fashions to food benefits families who might otherwise go without healthy meals or any nutrients for snacks.

Last year, from January to December – despite the three-month COVID shutdown – the thrift store sold enough little-used jewelry, collectibles, furniture and clothing that had been donated by residents region to buy $ 93,000 in monthly grocery vouchers that local individuals and families redeemed. in Hannaford in Meredith and EM Heath in Center Harbor. Another $ 26,520 went to vouchers for parents to buy healthy ingredients to prepare children’s meals during the summer.

“We have donations valued at $ 300 to $ 500,” said Amy Logue Norton, thrift store manager, who remembers how hard it was to make ends meet as a single mom. of five children.

It’s a simple but unusual system – one that flourished in the wake of the pandemic, as purchases and donations skyrocketed at most thrift stores in the area, benefiting community social missions.

It’s a victory for people who seldom have much of a choice – other than a choice between paying rent or buying medicine, clothes or food. Leaner times are expected to return when government benefits from COVID – which include increased food stamp benefits – stop or fade away, making thrift store shopping more necessary and a longer means. smart to stretch a dollar.

“Six months from now, when the stimulus money stops, everyone’s going to have a huge influx” of customers, Norton predicted of area thrift stores. “Some people don’t understand saving because they never could.”

Despite being closed for three months at the height of the pandemic, 2020 has been a banner year for many thrift stores, despite the global health crisis that has ravaged most other retailers.

“We had our best year ever in 2020 and already a record few months” in 2021, said Lisa Stevenson, manager of the Hearts and Hands Thrift Shop on Maple Street in Meredith, which was voted the best thrift store in the region. lake district last year. “Purchases are up and price drops are up. Clothes fly from here, as well as household and kitchen items in general. Thrift stores resell donated items to raise money for charity, unlike consignment stores, which resell items to shippers and take a percentage of the sale price.

In the wake of COVID, “I’ve seen a lot more faces and a lot of new faces,” said Meghan Marshall, manager of the Salvation Army thrift store on Salem Street in Laconia.

After COVID, “There was a huge pent-up demand to return to the store, and a huge demand to make donations,” said Tom Witham, treasurer of Hearts and Hands, a cooperative effort of Meredith Trinity Episcopal churches, St. Charles Catholic Church and first congregationalist church. In five years, sales of Hearts and Hands have funded $ 300,000 in grants to nonprofits, including $ 50,000 in the first four months of this year, Witham said. “We help people who depend on their purchases here. At the same time, it gives people a place to drop off things that are not going to the landfill. “

“We’re doing more now in three days than we did in five days before COVID,” said June Huot, store manager at St. Vincent de Paul thrift store on Union Avenue in Laconia. At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, “We were absolutely inundated with donations. We had to rent an outdoor storage space to manage it, ”she said. The first week of June, when stores were allowed to reopen, the thrift store, which funds charities that include its pantry, “opened up for business like we’ve never seen before. . Half the time in the morning people lined up on the ramp and around the corner.

Now, the thrift store customer base includes a wider age range, Huot said. Young parents buy clothes from thrift stores for their young children. Employees who work in Laconia buy here for lunch. Older customers flock here on “Senior Tuesday” for 30% off, and “can buy four or five things, or baskets of things,” she said. A small number of regulars come to buy clothes and collectibles for resale online.

“Now we have a much younger clientele,” Huot said. “High school and college age and early twenties – which we never had at all.”

Shopping in thrift stores is nothing new. Many people go to different stores on different days of the week, sometimes once in the morning and again in the afternoon, allowing new items to appear on shelves and displays.

The economy is “a hobby that people love to do” and serves a purpose, financially and socially, including after in-person shopping fails during COVID, Huot said. “We receive people who come two or three days a week. They socialize and we chat both ways. “

“Life has changed because of COVID,” Huot said. Thrift stores are now preparing to welcome larger crowds. “On the days we’re closed we just run around trying to pick up to get ready for the next day we’re open.” Adequate staff can be a challenge, even for St. Vincent de Paul thrift store, which has around 60 volunteers who take regular shifts. “The volume of things coming in here as fast as they are going.” They work their tail here.

With the premium coming in, some thrift stores have more deals to move merchandise quickly.

“We do a lot of dollar clothing days. Some people come twice a day to see what we’re posting, ”said Lt. Brian Perks, who oversees the Salvation Army thrift store. He’s become a magnet for people looking for vintage clothing for their own collections or for reselling, Perks said.

This month, the Lake District pantry and thrift store started cutting in half of everything on the first Friday of the month, which translates to new clothes second-hand or donated at 50 cents. at $ 2 per item.

“We will have a looped line all around here,” said Director Norton. A “gourmet rack” offers high-end clothing priced individually. “It’s like Filene’s basement here,” she said. “We have lots and lots of knickknacks up front. It’s crazy, but it’s fun. The bargain hunt can turn into a dizzying frenzy as people race and sift through the things they want.

At the same time, COVID seems to have sparked the joy of giving in things you might have a weak connection with, but don’t really want and need – a ‘big clean’ craze that has started when more people were working from home during COVID and wanted a cooler, cleaner space.

Norton said decluttering gained popularity 10 years ago after Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – The Japanese Art of Cluttering and Organizing” became an online bestseller. and in store.

“It really made thrift stores” as donations took off, Norton said. But at the same time, people still “like to do good business”. The economy can become a revolving door to drop unwanted items and return with new treasures thrown by someone else – which combines the joy of giving and the pleasure of getting a good deal.

It is a lure of abundance and value. “The quality of the merchandise we buy here,” said Nancy Chapman of Moultonborough, a volunteer at the Lakes Region Food Pantry and Thrift Store. “The generosity of this community is incredible.”

“We are in such a big area,” Norton said. “Everyone changes things all the time. They prefer to donate rather than sell.”

“We have customers who come every day to wait for the truck to arrive,” loaded with donations, Huot told St. Vincent de Paul. “What I could use is about 10 more volunteers.”

About Renee Williams

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