When The Chronicle came across a notice that the Ann Arbor PTO Thrift Shop was facing some challenges, we caught AATA bus No. 6 to South Industrial’s Resale Row to get the details.
Susan Soth, the store’s manager, said that donations of clothes, housewares and other items are down 50% since early December, compared to a year ago. And though sales had been going gangbusters earlier in 2008, since early December they’ve been flat or slightly down. On Sundays, for example, they’d generally bring in more than $1,000 – recently sales have been closer to $800. The winter season is typically a slower time of year, Soth said, but “it’s never been this slow, and we’re not alone.”
Soth believes that people who in the past donated to the thrift shop are now holding on to things, because of the rotten economy. Or instead of giving things away to charity, they’re selling the stuff on eBay to bring in extra cash.
The Chronicle encountered anecdotal evidence of the former phenomenon just last week. County commissioner Barbara Levin Bergman told us jokingly that she’d been shopping at the Home Shopping Network these days – that is, pulling things out of her closets and storage, instead of buying something new.
At the PTO Thrift Shop, the most noticeable shortages are in the houseswares section: Dishes, pots, pans and other kitchenware. In some cases, the shelves are literally bare, though Soth said they try to spread out what they have to make it look a little less sparse. Donations of electronics are down too, she said. Same for men’s clothing.
The only real bright spot has been a little extra business from the set crew of “Betty Anne Waters,” the Hilary Swank film that’s shooting in the area this month. They’ve been in four times so far, Soth said, each time buying about $200 to $300 worth of linens, curtains and other household items.
Just down the road from the PTO is the city’s ReUse Center, where manager Gary Urick told The Chronicle they’re seeing a similar trend, though not to the same degree. The center is getting fewer large appliances. And items that people brought in when they were getting rid of cabinets and such before doing some “discretionary redecorating” – there’s not as much of that happening these days, he said.
Like Soth, Urick characterized the winter as a slow time anyway, and that while donations were down, sales for December and January had been stable. He said they’d know by mid-April whether something was at play other than just a seasonal slump.
This isn’t an omnibus article looking at all the thrift and resale shops in town, but we were hoping to hit the Resale Row cluster on Industrial south of Jewett, which includes the PTO thrift shop, ReUse Center and Klothes Kloset, an upscale consignment shop. (The Row also includes Woman in the Shoe on Rosewood and the Salvation Army store on South State.) However, on Monday the Kloset is closed, so we gave them a call the next day.
Owner Patricia Wojtowicz stressed that her consignment store isn’t a thrift shop, but like other retailers, she said she’s been hit by the economy. Sales are way down – about 80% of her customers are people on a budget, and they aren’t making nearly as many purchases as in the past.
She’s also getting more people who are desperate for money, who don’t know how the consignment business works, and who bring in items that they want her to buy from them. “They bring in crap,” she said, things that are soiled or torn that even a thrift store wouldn’t accept. Or they bring in clothes they’ve bought at a thrift store, and want her to sell.
She charges a $20 membership fee before people can sell their clothes at her store, a nominal amount meant to discourage people who are just looking to make a quick buck. “Otherwise,” she said, “I would have a lot of people bringing in junk and wasting my time.”