Who’s “Allowed” to Shop at Thrift Stores?

Fasten your seatbelts…it’s going to be a bumpy post! This is a controversial topic that’s been on my mind for a long time and I finally decided to tackle it. Feel free to leave a comment. (No worries if you disagree or want to take me to task.)


Lately I’ve been reading more articles and social media posts about two types of shoppers that are ruining thrift stores for the people that really need them. They are “the rich” who could afford paying retail prices and resellers/flippers. Both face ire from some in society who say these groups are stealing from the poor and causing stores to raise their prices.

The issue lies with those who buy out thrift stores with the intention to resell without adding any value to these items. Those who put easy profit over compassion for the environment and the people who need to shop second hand compromise the integrity of  thrifting.

The Appalachian Online, Nadine Jallal

And more than one writer has posited that it is unethical for those who buy thrift store goods to resell them and make a profit.

“Thrifting is not wrong but profiting off something that people need in order to maintain their standard of living is. It is unethical and maintains itself on classist ideals.”

North Texas Daily, September 2020

Gosh. That’s harsh.

A bit of history…

As benevolent as these missions [Salvation Army and Goodwill] may have seemed, they were actually a response to another phenomenon that Christian leaders observed, as reported by Jennifer Le Zotte in the October 2017 edition of The New England Quarterly. New immigrants to America, especially European Jews, had trouble finding employment. To earn money, they pushed carts through major cities’ streets, collecting and selling second-hand goods. Though they were scorned for this behavior, these new citizens also made good money. Thus, when Christian leaders began to emulate this behavior, they did so to make money. These funds were raised to underwrite their mission work. Still, assuming that thrift stores were an outreach effort to the poor is backward. In America, these stores began as an effort to raise money—that could then be used to assist those living in poverty.

Trvst, History of Second Hand Thrift Shopping

Hmmm. That’s interesting. So thrift stores did not originate to provide inexpensive goods to low-income folks, but to raise money for their programs. And I think that’s still true today! Certainly Goodwill doesn’t hesitate to let you know that your purchases support their programs. But I also know this personally. For a time I worked for a nonprofit that provided stroke education and services. We had a thrift store as part of our fundraising efforts. But after several years, the nonprofit’s board decided to close the store because it wasn’t bringing in enough money…for the programs.

So in essence all those pesky resellers buying at thrift stores are a boon to the store and its mission. And while I may complain about the rising prices in thrift stores, I can’t fault them for wanting to raise more money for their organization.

Drew in her thrift store dress.

And what about the people who shop at thrift stores but could afford to pay more–should they feel guilty? I would give that a hard NO. In today’s environment where thriftiness and sustainability are watch words it seems unfair and even ridiculous to suggest that those who have deeper pockets can’t enjoy the benefits of second-hand shopping. Drew Barrymore once wore a $25 vintage thrift store dress to the red carpet and I thought that was wonderful. It proves you can look fabulous on a budget. (Of course it also helps if you look like Drew Barrymore!)

Now is money made from the sale of a thrift-store item unethical?

Let’s walk through the whole scenario as I see it:

Jane is cleaning out her closet and happily donates clothes she no longer wears to Goodwill. In fact she is relieved to have them out of her closet. The store receives them and prices her donated jean jacket at $10. Lily comes in and buys the jacket for $10. The store now has the money to use for its programs and Lily is the owner of the jacket. Lily puts the jacket in her online store and sells it to Kate for $50. All four entities involved in the transaction–Jane, Goodwill, Lily and Kate–are happy.

Am I missing something here because I don’t see the unscrupulous part of this scenario. In reality that’s what all stores do–buy items on a lower price and sell them for a higher price. Walmart pays $2 for a shirt made in China and sells it for $16. Anthropologie buys a $5 scarf from India and sells it for $60. Likewise vintage resellers find items where ever they can (thrift stores, estate sales, flea markets, garage sales, etc.) and mark them up. That’s the business.

Now I know some people are thinking that the jean jacket should have been left behind for a person who needs it but can only afford $10. Here’s the thing–thrift stores receive tons of clothing donations. So many in fact that most never make it to the store floor. So folks with limited budgets are spoiled for choice. Even at my tiny Goodwill.


Bottomline

I know I’m biased. I shop for both myself and my business at thrift stores and according to some I am the reason second-hand stores are being “ruined.” I don’t know if I’ve convinced you otherwise, but I think thrift stores are for everybody and anybody who wants to grace their doors–from folks just trying to save money, to resellers scraping together a livelihood, to people on a very limited budget, to movie stars wanting a unique item and the thrill of the hunt.

Let’s stop making moral aspersions about categories of thrift-store shoppers. There’s enough stuff for everyone.

Thoughts?

Karen

5 comments

  1. I never knew this was something some thought! How rude of them! The thrift stores get their merchandise for free. They price it. Yes, lately some are over-pricing (Goodwill t-shirts at 4.99, or labeling eBay listings to justify collectible prices), but barring any owner operated thrift shops (I have a few in town), the sales benefit some charity or another, or training, providing food, shelter, etc. Just yesterday I found a treasure trove of vintage wall pockets at Goodwill. I didn’t buy them all (I don’t resell, and don’t need five yellow Dutch shoe wall pockets!), but sincerely doubt my purchases ($42, a record high for that store for me) were anything the “needy” would have bought! Clothes? I have found expensive brand jeans, labels on, sweaters from Old Navy, and more brand names, in the Goodwill bins. As you mention, the stores are inundated with clothing. They can’t sell it all. St. Vincent de Paul has vouchers for those that need them, for clothing and bedding. When Goodwill asks if I want to round up or donate a quarter (I always ask for the senior discount and then round up, so we both win), they tell me exactly what program that extra donation is going for. Too many keep saying, “… but… but… but… their CEO makes…” as though they do no good at all.
    I will add that there are exceptions. My daughter had friends, a couple, who were making a quilt from denim. When clothing was 50% off St. Vincent de Paul, they went and bought every pair of jeans in the store. That was wrong. The money still went to the cause, but they DID keep others from buying jeans, which is pretty much only what people wear these days! At least here. That’s an extreme case.
    Sorry for the length of my reply! The attitude of some people! You just can’t do right, no matter what you do! If they bought something at a garage sale for $2, and later found out it was worth $1,000, would they go back and tell the people and share the money? Of course not!
    And aren’t they being judgemental with the “can afford to pay retail”? How do they know a person’s situation? When I was a girl my mother and I went to Goodwill, it was fun. I asked decades later if we went for fun, or did we need to? She said, “Probably a little of both.” Honestly, I was shocked! My father always worked, we had a nice house in a nice suburb, my mother stayed home… I wanted for nothing (normal).
    What’s wrong with “maintaining” one’s standard of living? The thrift stores profit. Their charities or whatever profit. The buyer gets a good deal. How about they buy it, keep it 6 months and then sell it? Would that make these judgemental idiots happy?
    Grrrr…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi Lisa. Thanks for your thoughtful, impassioned reply. You make many good points!

    In my case as a reseller, I rarely buy anything anyone needs to survive–an Italian vase, a silverplate bowl, vintage jewelry–so I refuse to feel guilty. But even when I buy myself a piece of thrift store clothing it’s just because I love being thrifty when I can. Who doesn’t love saving money?? And it’s true, like you say, you never know someone’s economic situation.

    I do wish folks would get off their high horse!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Well, seeing that you asked…I don’t think most people give a flying f…k about those people’s opinions, who think that neither rich people nor resellers, shouldn’t shop at thrift stores. And while were disciussing this, what is their definition of rich, anyway?!. So, carry on, y’all…The thrift shops need all the shoppers that they can get!!

    Like

  4. You are spot on! I just…… I can’t…… ugh. And the dislike for resellers extends past the thrift stores. Years ago, at least 15 years, I went to an estate sale second day. As we walked up, the person having the sale, I assumed it was family, announced that everything was half price — unless you were a reseller. Resellers had to pay full price. I left. I had no time for that attitude. And menopause was full swing at the time. But, in hindsight, I should have done what every other reseller there did. Pretend to be a regular shopper. I mean, do they want to sell it or not? Some money or no money? It makes no sense.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Wanda!! OMG, that estate sale family basically shot themselves in the foot with that policy! So ridiculous and mean spirited.

      And I am through with people trying to make me feel guilty for sourcing at a thrift store.

      Ta, Karen

      Like

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