Most Popular Economy in Charlotte Amid Inflation, COVID

By CATHERINE MUCCIGROSSO, The Charlotte Observer

CHARLOTTE, NC (AP) – It’s been nearly a decade since rappers Macklemore and Ryan Lewis topped the US music charts with “Thrift Shop” over poppin’ tags and “One man’s trash, that’s another man’s come-up.”

Clearly, they were on the right track. Over the past decade, retail apparel has grown rapidly, 215% in an industry that has grown by 24%, according to the latest report by ThredUp, an online used-goods store.

And if The Charlotte Observer’s recent 2022 Reader’s Choice contest is any indication, our region has a lot of fans of second-hand shopping. During the 12-day contest, over 644,230 votes were cast. People were allowed to vote multiple times.

The winner of the field of 16 stores chosen by readers was The WearHouse, a thrift store that helps fund the bilingual, multicultural nonprofit Camino, which offers holistic care to people with and without insurance.

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“Especially now due to inflation, we are seeing an increase in savings,” said Camino spokeswoman Paola Garcia.

The Charlotte area also has a variety of thrift stores.

Queen City ranks fifth out of 50 cities for having the most thrift stores per 100,000 people, according to data from Joybird, a California company that sells new, high-quality furniture.

Earlier this year, Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont said it plans to open 25 retail stores and donation centers over the next five years. The non-profit organization serves 18 counties in the Charlotte, North and South Carolina area, offering free job training and employment support programs.

“I think there is interest in having a fun shopping experience,” said Jose Luis, regional director of operations for Goodwill Industries. “We are seeing that there are more consumers interested in second-hand shopping, especially in the last five years.”

While second-hand shopping saves money, it’s attracting people of all walks of life, said Adele Meyer, executive director of the Michigan-based National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops.

“The trend is for it to keep going up,” she said.

The US resale market is expected to more than double by 2026, reaching $82 billion compared to last year, according to ThredUp. That’s after resale grew 58% last year, the biggest increase in five years.

“I see more young people saving than they used to,” said Sarah Ramberg, who has turned second-hand shopping into a career. The Belmont-based blogger and author said, “It’s become cool for people of all backgrounds.”

Retail industry experts say there are many factors driving the rise in popularity, including Gen Z and Millennials who are interested in sustainability rather than “fast fashion”, where textiles end up in landfills and seek positive emotions. linked to the purchase of second-hand products.

“The economy has become more acceptable and even a hobby as influencers on social media flaunt new clothes purchased at thrift stores,” said Cindy Fox, professor of marketing and retail at UNC Charlotte Belk College of Business. “The desire for a more exclusive look also supports thrift stores, as more young people create an ensemble that includes vintage clothing.”

Charlotte-area Goodwill saw an 18% increase in customers at its stores, from 902,526 in 2020 to 1.06 million last year, according to the nonprofit. Inflation and the COVID pandemic are helping to spur second-hand sales.

“Since COVID started, our numbers have increased significantly,” said Susan Ross, director of development for the Matthews HELP Center & Backporch Treasures Thrift Shop in Matthews. “People are looking for better deals.”

INFLATION AND PANDEMIC EFFECT

Whenever there’s a downturn in the economy, there’s always a significant increase in interest in second-hand retail because the industry gets more publicity, Meyer said.

“I think this time was more significant because of what everyone has been through during the pandemic,” Meyer said. The pandemic has changed consumers’ shopping habits and people have reset priorities, cleaning out closets and their homes to make room for homeschooling and offices.

“More people discovered this during the pandemic because the resale industry hasn’t had supply chain issues — because they’re selling goods that already exist,” Meyer said. “The stores had a lot of stock.”

Goodwill, for example, has been able to provide consistency in merchandise and pricing, Luis said.

But the economy is also impacting thrift store retail in another way. The main problem is getting and retaining employees, Meyer said.

ADDING STORES AND NEW CONCEPT

Goodwill recently opened one of its largest stores in the country in Shelby, less than 50 miles west of Charlotte, moving to 1005 E. Dixon Blvd. It is the second location in southern Piedmont with the new store concept following Rockingham’s debut in April.

Along with a traditional Goodwill store, the two new stores have a community room for rent, a locally owned cafe and Goodwill’s gaming and electronics technology store, The GRID. Both stores are located in former Lidl supermarkets, each about 36,000 square feet.

“It’s all part of an experience,” Luis said. “One of the best benefits of having the relationship with these third parties who operate the cafes is that it’s part of Goodwill’s mission – to enable people to succeed in their jobs, and these are small businesses.”

Last year, Goodwill generated nearly $63 million last year from its 25 retail stores and 30 donation locations and served 6,112 people. Regional Goodwill employs more than 900 workers in its stores, giving and career centers and offices.

This year alone, Goodwill has or will open six stores, including the Shelby relocation. Recently, two traditional stores opened on Idlewild and Wendover Roads in Charlotte. Two more stores will open: September 23 in Denver and October 28 in Ballantyne – East.

For comparison, Goodwill opened just one store in 2019 in Fort Mill, SC, and none last year.

“We are looking at different opportunities to serve our communities,” said Luis. Goodwill opened one of its largest stores in the country in Shelby, less than 50 miles west of Charlotte, on August 26 at 1005 E. Dixon Blvd.

Not all second-hand stores are non-profit, but they still offer benefits to customers. Also, the retail industry is not like a convenience store, where everyone has similar merchandise and prices, Meyer said. Each store is different.

For example, she said some of the more than 1,000 members of the association, which includes consignment and vintage resale stores, can sell $5 bags, while others sell used Birkins for $75,000.

“It’s such a good industry for consumers, whether they want to save money or donate goods and tax breaks,” Meyer said. “It’s an industry that works both ways to the advantage of consumers.”

But for nonprofits, donations and retail income help fund their causes.

“When we can get these donated goods and provide services for free, it’s an amazing combination,” Luis said. And when someone finds a store they like, they stop often. “It’s like a gift every day,” Meyer said. “I call it the thrill of the hunt, and it’s exciting when you find something you love at a good price.”

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