The Shelves Are Getting Bare

Donations down 50% at Ann Arbor PTO Thrift Shop
PTO sign

Though the arrow points up, donations are actually down at the Ann Arbor PTO Thrift Shop.

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.

Susan Soth

Susan Soth, manager of the Ann Arbor PTO Thrift Shop, shows The Chronicle just how bare some of their shelves are in the housewares section. Pretty darn bare.

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.

The exterior of the Klothes Kloset, an upscale consignment store at 2401 S. Industrial.

The exterior of the Klothes Kloset, an upscale consignment store at 2401 S. Industrial.

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.”

Shoppers on Monday inside the cavernous ReUse Center at 2420 S. Industrial.

Shoppers on Monday inside the cavernous ReUse Center at 2420 S. Industrial.


  1. By Mary Morgan
    February 24, 2009 at 3:04 pm | permalink

    One additional note: The thrift shop’s website is still under construction, so here are a few more details for people interested in donating or shopping there.

    The store is located at 2280 S. Industrial Hwy. Hours are Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Donations are accepted Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sat. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. No donations are accepted on Sunday.

    For more information, call 734.996.9155.

  2. By stephanie
    February 24, 2009 at 7:46 pm | permalink

    As a frequent thrift shopper, I must say I have noticed the not-so-full shelves of late.
    It’s too bad the Klothes Kloset is so preoccupied with being considered a thrift shop– the owner’s comments were so disparaging and negative- she would do well to be more friendly like her thrift-store counterparts.

  3. February 25, 2009 at 12:37 am | permalink

    Thanks Mary. I’ll make it a point to clean out my closets of useful but unused items.

  4. February 25, 2009 at 9:46 am | permalink

    While I can’t say that the Klothes Kloset is one of my favorite stores, or the greatest store on the planet, I think they came off a bit unfairly in the article. As a matter of journalistic style, I would reserve closing the story with three negative paragraphs for people who are admitting to serious felonies. ;-)

    I have been in Klothes Kloset on many occasions with my wife and although it is a bit snobby there is nothing awful about shopping there, either.

    Not like Shaman Drum. Just kidding! ;-)

  5. By Irma
    February 25, 2009 at 10:25 am | permalink

    Thank you for highlighting this. I’d like to add that the PTO Thrift Shop is a local nonprofit that supports the activities of students in the AA Public Schools. Donations are tax-deductible.

  6. By Susan
    February 25, 2009 at 12:47 pm | permalink

    Thank you Mary for bringing our plight to your readers. I would also like to correct that our donation hours are M-F 10 -6 and Sat. 10-5.We also have free pickups in Ann Arbor,parts of Dexter , Saline and Ypsialnti.Please call the store to make arrangments (996-9155)
    Susan Soth
    PTO Tthrift Shop Manager

  7. By sierra bravo
    February 25, 2009 at 2:31 pm | permalink

    I think it would help if the folks receiving donations at the PTO Thrift Shop were more friendly. I brought in a few items this summer and they treated me like crap! I said, ‘no more’ and now take my things around the corner to the Salvation Army. There, the people were very nice and appreciative. PTO Thrift Shop, try smiling once in a while!

  8. By Vivienne Armentrout
    February 25, 2009 at 4:14 pm | permalink

    I took some donations yesterday (inspired by this story) and was treated well. It is nice to know that things will be used by people who want them (instead of being stored in my attic), and that they can support the schools at the same time.

  9. By tom
    February 26, 2009 at 7:49 am | permalink

    I have nothing but good things to say about the PTO Thrift Shop. I have donated there several times and each time have been greeted with a smile and pleasantries .The shop itself is well organized , clean and well staffed.Please donate and shop there to help support all Ann Arbor School children!

  10. By Lynn
    April 30, 2009 at 10:36 pm | permalink

    I love shopping at the Reuse Center. The staff is friendly and very helpful. When I have something to donate a smiling worker comes ou and unloads my car. A great place!!