Thrift store prices are rising — but staffers say it’s not because of growing popularity

By Chloe Robertson/Kent State NewsLab

Racks full of vintage Levi’s, chunky knit sweaters and retro graphic tees continuously intrigue second-hand shoppers. 

The affordable prices of special one-of-a-kind clothing have increased interest in and popularity of thrift stores throughout Ohio, shoppers and proprietors say. 

“We have seen thrift shopping increase among Millennials and Gen X,” said JoLene Gordon, Director of Public and Donor Relations for Goodwill Industries of Akron. Goodwill’s demographic consists mostly of women between ages 25 and 60. 

According to the Association of Resale Professionals, 16% to 18% of Americans shop at thrift stores and 12% to 15% at consignment or resale shops annually. Resale shops have grown 7% each year for the past two years, with more than 25,000 stores in the U.S. today. 

A Goodwill Industries of Akron store. Photo by Chloe Robertson.

Educator Lauren Calig has been shopping at stores like Goodwill for about 15 years. To her, thrift stores are a sustainable way to shop and find unique items. 

“I’m still waiting to find that Picasso or Monet,” Calig said while shopping at Goodwill in Ravenna. 

Many discarded textiles end up in landfills or exported to other countries for potential resale, according to environmental advocacy group Greenpeace. Shoppers like Calig believe secondhand shopping preserves the environment and creates less waste. 

“So many of these clothes end up in piles in other countries and these countries are inundated with these clothes and they can’t even do anything with them,” Calig said. “If I buy it, at least it’s not ending up there.” 

Gordon said every customer at Goodwill is supporting their mission of helping people find consistent employment. 

“Our whole business model is based on we take in donations, we sell those, and the profit is applied to supporting our mission,” Gordon said. “We work to help individuals prepare for, find, and retain employment.”

It is relatively common for thrift stores to support nonprofit organizations. The chain Out of the Closet supports the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and Happy Tails Thrift Shop in Akron supports the Summit County Humane Society. 

As the popularity of thrifting changes and prices of goods slowly increase, Gordon says Goodwill works to keep its stores affordable. Each time Goodwill’s prices rise, employees are given papers which explain to customers why the prices have increased. 

A Goodwill Industries of Akron store. Photo by Chloe Robertson.

“I’ve worked here for a year and half, and in the time that I’ve worked here, our prices have risen about four or five times,” Ravenna Goodwill employee Shawn Hills said. “It’s a gradual incline due to inflation.” 

Some consumers question whether the increased prices are caused from inflation alone or if independent resellers could be to blame. Independent resellers buy goods and sell them for personal profit. More specifically, thrift and vintage resellers find unique pieces and sell them online for usually increased prices. The independent reseller industry is continuously growing thanks to social media and apps like Depop and Poshmark. 

“We probably have about five regulars that are resellers. I think that does affect the prices, but not as much as general inflation,” Hills said. “There’s not enough of them, and I don’t think resellers are drastic enough to affect the prices.” 

Gordon says resellers are just more customers who continuously support Goodwill’s mission.

“We don’t feel that independent resellers drive up costs, we view them as new customers,” Gordon said. 

Avid thrifters Destiny Torres and Marlo Schatz have noticed the gradual increase of prices at their local Goodwill. However, Schatz believes the prices are still manageable and reasonable.

“Everyone comes here to thrift for a reason, and I’m really glad this place is here for people who need it,” Schatz said. 

Gordon explains how instead of pricing each textile individually, Goodwill has set prices for each category of clothing they receive in donations. Goodwill determines their prices by watching the market around their stores, looking at other thrift operations and taking in the price of new goods at stores like Walmart and Target. 

“We’re aware that a lot of families shop here to save money, so we do everything we can to keep our prices affordable,” Gordon said. “When your pricing is market-based versus cost-plus, you can only factor in so many expenses.” 

According to Goodwill employee Hill, the Ravenna store receives about 60 to 100 individual donations on the weekends and 60 to 80 donations during weekdays. 

“People really care that their business and donations are going towards a good cause,” Gordon said.

This story was originally published by the Kent State NewsLab, a collaborative newsroom staffed by Kent State students.

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