Shoppers flock to thrift stores as economy worsens

SAN JOSE, Calif.

Making ends meet has never been more challenging. Thrift shops offer low prices and consignment stores afford people a chance to raise cash from goods they no longer need or want. It's turning them into one of the few bright spots in the fragile economy.

Sales reflect the demand.

"Our increases this year are about plus-22 percent year to date," Goodwill of Silicon Valley CEO Michael Fox said. "Our same store sales almost 10 percent up."

Sales last month at Goodwill of Silicon Valley's 17 stores totaled $1.6 million.

Christine Hammill was at one store looking for job interview clothes.

"You can get a top here for $8 that at Talbots would be $50, so you can get four tops for the price of one," she said.

Goodwill has been remodeling its stores to make them more inviting. The aisles are wider. There are music videos playing. New merchandise is added daily. It has become a lifesaver for the unemployed and the financially stressed.

Consignment shops also are seeing a boom. Moms pack the Kidz Shoppe in San Jose in search of clothing, toys and other children's goods to save money.

"We are seeing a definite uptick of people wanting to shop as well as consign, which is good," Kidz Shoppe spokesperson Melissa Warren said. "With this I think people will realize once the recession is over, that people will continue to shop this way. It's a nice way to re-use and stretch your dollar going forward."

"I just purchased a stroller at Babies R Us for $19.99, and this stroller is $12.99 so I saved some more. I'm going to take the other one back," San Jose resident Natalia Bruton said.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul operates five thrift shops in San Mateo County.

Shopping there does more than help the financially pinched. Sales also help support non-profit services, such as job training, resumes services and feeding the hungry.

"People are losing their jobs and we go out to the parking lot, we see that they've got their life's possessions packed up in this relatively nice automobile, so the hurt is emerging and it's emerging from all corners of the Bay Area," St. Vincent de Paul stores spokesperson John Denniston said.

Demand for bargain-priced goods is growing with the economic downturn. Goodwill is opening its 18th Silicon Valley shop Friday and it has plans to open even more.

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