We Are Entering a Golden Age of Thrift Shopping

published Jul 19, 2020
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Credit: Photo: shutterstock, Graphic: Apartment Therapy

Over the past few months, folks sheltering in place have exhausted just about every opportunity to stay occupied and entertained. But the truth is, there are only so many jigsaw puzzles, Netflix series, and bread recipes to be enjoyed before people reach the inevitable conclusion that it’s time to declutter. My social media feed has been overflowing with before-and-after footage of rooms transformed by sheer boredom, with donation piles sitting unmoved—until now. As thrift stores and vintage shops reopen across the country, the donations will pour in. And that means it’s time to unearth some treasures. Ahead, poke through the reasons why we should be thrift shopping *sighs* now more than ever.

There’s a high volume of options

The country’s Spring Cleaning On Steroids has led to a surge in thrift store donations. Colorado-based Arc Thrift Stores reported a 20 to 40 percent increase in donations since the pandemic began. While this is wonderful news for stores that have warehouses large enough to process and store donations, the unprecedented volume of donations has forced some stores to reject donations based on inadequate storage alone. (Remember 2019’s similar “Marie Kondo Effect” that sparked way too many donations from well-intentioned folks tidying up? It’s like that all over again.) With increased donations, however, comes more options and greater opportunities to discover a really special piece for your home.

And the opportunity to reimagine 

Since you’re probably spending so much time working from home, you might be considering how to reinvent your space and wardrobe. Depending on your stage in life, reimagining spaces can look very different. Liz Schaer, thrifting extraordinaire and owner of Rockford, Ill., thrift shop Rooted, says, “My clientele is mostly people in their 20s, 30s, and sometimes 40s who are looking to refresh and possibly add pieces that they’ve never had before, whereas people who are older, maybe have kids who are in college now, are like ‘okay, time to get rid of X, Y, and Z and clean up and get rid of the mess.’” As is the circle of life, those vintage and retro-feeling pieces that more established folks are looking to rehome are perfect for younger shoppers who want that aesthetic for their space.

And we’re not just reimagining our spaces—we’re also rethinking our values and perspectives. Mariah Bayne, owner of shopthrftd and expert thrift shopper, believes that the pandemic has forced shoppers to reckon with fast fashion. 

“I think that definitely the pandemic is going to change the way people shop when it comes to different companies shutting down,” Bayne says.

As more and more businesses make headlines for closing their doors, shoppers will adjust. “It’s a good time for people to reevaluate, maybe thrift if that’s not something they’ve done before,” Bayne explains.

Affordable options abound

Thrift shopping isn’t just an environmentally, ethically, and ecologically friendly method of shopping. It’s also more affordable. Thrifting online has managed to thrive during the shutdown, and the sheer volume of donations that have descended upon stores keep on coming and need to be sold. With such a surplus of items, prices are adjusted to clear the shelves, which is fantastic news for shoppers who are trying to navigate the realities of the economic downturn. Plus, in-person shopping means no shipping fees, and you can enjoy that matching set of vintage Pyrex the same day you buy it. Economics, y’all!

Be warned, not all thrift stores’ prices are adjusting at the same rate. Bayne has noticed some chain thrift stores’ prices are even rising at some locations. “But from more local, smaller shops, prices have either stayed the same or [decreased] because they’ve got an influx of stuff they’re trying to get rid of,” says Bayne. 

Shopping local saves the day

Schaer says that the pandemic changed the way she did business without sacrificing demand. If anything, she says, business has increased. “I hadn’t been selling very much stuff via Instagram when I had opened my shop because I was really wanting to try to get people to come in, so I’d give sneak peeks [on Instagram].” After the shutdown required Schaer close her storefront, she shifted gears. “Then I had all of this inventory that I needed to move, so I started listing earrings and some other things online and sold way more than I had expected.”

Members of Schaer’s community continued to show up for Rooted during the early shutdown days. 

“I think that people were really seeing that if they wanted small business that they liked to stay around, they needed to step up and support them,” Schaer says. It’s wonderful to bring home the many treasures that await us, and it’s even better when our money goes back into our communities.

But please remember…

Vintage shopping is best when you shop strategically. While thrift stores are reopening around the country, the pandemic rages on. Remember to wear a mask in stores, sanitize your hands, and disinfect items if you’re able. Schaer recommends getting in line early for estate sales so as to browse when homes have been disinfected. For those seeking to shop while socially distancing, Bayne says, “Early morning or before close is a good time to go because people tend to [thrift shop] in the middle of the day.” And with regard to finding that perfect piece, Bayne recommends, “The thrift stores are very overwhelmed right now, and a lot of the time they put things in random places and things get moved around, so even if you’re looking for something specific, I recommend looking everywhere—that’s how I find little hidden gems.”