Thrift shops busy in frugal times
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Situated as a thoroughfare for Brookline, Mt. Lebanon, Dormont, Baldwin Township, Whitehall and other South Hills communities, the Grove and Library roads intersection in Castle Shannon is not where hurried motorists want to land during rush hour.
But it is exactly where a nonprofit organization that relies on shoppers and donations from all parts of the financial spectrum would want to open a thrift store. That is the rationale behind the new 11,000-square-foot St. Vincent de Paul thrift store scheduled to open at 9 a.m. May 18 at 3423 Library Road. The building previously housed a Rite Aid.
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The great location -- and a not-so-great economy -- already spell success for the store.
"We've been looking for six years, and the location is ideal because of the crossroads," said Fred Just, executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Council of Pittsburgh.
In addition, a trolley stop is just across Library Road, or state Route 88, near the Linden Grove dance hall, for transporting shoppers from throughout the city.
"It is also a residential area with a mix of low, middle, and high incomes for a good mix of people donating quality items and people looking to buy quality items at low cost," Mr. Just said.
It will be the sixth Pittsburgh-area store for the Catholic lay organization, which offers tangible assistance to those in need on a person-to-person basis.
"The new store will be completely stocked with our best materials, supplies, clothing and household stock. People know that and are there first thing in the morning," he said.
All items are donated.
"Nothing goes to waste," Mr. Just said. If an item does not sell in one store, it is packaged in the warehouse and sent to missions in Third World countries.
Mr. Just said the recession has mostly helped thrift stores. While there are fewer donations of furniture -- people are keeping these big-ticket pieces longer -- there are lots more cost-conscious shoppers in search of bargains.
They include 99-cent denim jeans during special sale days (the same jeans go for up to $5.99 otherwise); designer clothing for $10; furniture from $3 to $250; glassware for $5 depending on quality; and more.
About four years ago, St. Vincent de Paul and eight other agencies formed the Alliance of Nonprofit Stores.
All of the alliance partners have seen an increase in customers of 5 percent to 10 percent over the past year, which Mr. Just attributes to the financial climate and the subsequent erosion of the stigma of thrift store shopping -- as well as the upgrading of the stores.
"This is not your grandmother's thrift store," he said of the renovated, well-lit and well-kept modern store.
Last fall, Goodwill -- an Alliance partner -- upgraded its 20-year thrift store on Route 51 in Whitehall with a brighter, fresher look, said David Tobiczyk, vice president of marketing and development for Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania.
Sales and customers at the store are up about 5 percent over the past 12 months, which he attributes to a combination of the economy and an push to move more items onto the sales floor faster. Besides clothing -- which runs from $3.99 for a pair of men's pants to $4.99 for a woman's dress -- the store sells televisions, rugs, housewares, draperies, lamps and more.
Goodwill no longer sells new goods, except for mattresses. All else is donated.
"It allows us to generate more dollars for our Goodwill mission," Mr. Tobiczyk said.
Store revenue supports job-training service, vocational rehabilitation and equipment for people with disabilities and other employment barriers.
Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania operates 25 stores, including six in north-central West Virginia. Nationwide, it has more than 2,000 stores.
Among the other enhancements from the fall's facelift are new mission signs; new signs over racks; new wall cabinets; newly-painted walls; and tags on all the clothing.
The new thrift store will be open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday. It is closed Sundays.
First Published April 23, 2009 6:25 am