Originally published August 30, 2011 at 6 a.m., updated September 26, 2011 at 11:37 a.m.
The weak economy continues to flatten hopes for better sales at retail giants, but the slow economy isn’t squeezing all the life out of the retail sector as second-hand stores are finding ways to thrive.
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SAN DIEGO It’s lunch time on a weekday and the parking lot at this Santee Goodwill store is full. Patty Williams is here scanning the racks for clothes.
“Five children, 14 grand children,” said Patty Williams. “I find things for them. Treasures. And, I don’t tell them that I got is at the Goodwill.”
This 12,000 square-foot facility is the group’s largest San Diego store. Bargain-hunter Connie Gary is visiting from Maryland, and she has her granddaughter in mind.
“I got some good deals on some ballerina outfits and a winter coat. They’re being transferred to Virginia. And its going to be cold weather there, so, I got her a little winter coat for $4. Can’t beat that,” said Gary.
The store is brightly painted and organized. In fact, the facility is designed to look like a typical discount retailer.
“I’m going to say we’ve got 30 or 40 racks of clothes,” said Sharon Corrigan, director of communications and development at Goodwill Industries of San Diego County. “Everything sorted by color and categories: jeans, pants, blouses, shirts, children’s clothing, maternity clothing, sweaters, denim, lots of denim.”
This store racked up more than a million dollars in business in the past year and sales are up nine percent from a year ago. That’s critical for a charitable organization like Goodwill, which doesn’t do any other fundraising.
“You give us the things you no longer want or need,” said Corrigan. “We accept them, sort them, hang them, price them, sell them, transport them. And all of those activities create the jobs for people that just need a little extra help.”
Goodwill Industries is focused on jobs. The organization employs more than 860 people in San Diego County. That’s more than double their payroll 10 years ago. Corrigan says Goodwill is looking to open a couple more thrift stores and that could add another 60 to 80 positions.
The Salvation Army in San Diego also saw a boost in sales when the recession first hit several years ago, said Major Henry Graciani, chief administrator. Those sales eased a bit in the first part of the year as the economy improved, but picked up again in the past month.
“The challenge for us is that as people purchase less at stores, they donate less,” said Graciani. “Because when you buy something you displace something else in your home and you give that away to the Salvation Army as an example.”
Thrifts stores run by San Diego’s Father Joe’s Villages are dealing with a ten percent decline in donations, but they maintained last year’s sales levels. The organization actually expanded its retail effort by opening a second-hand furniture warehouse this year.
Back in Santee, Goodwill’s largest local store has been open for about a year. Kathy McDaniel has worked here since it opened and she appreciates seeing the interest from shoppers.
“I do think people tend to shop us more because they’re a little strapped for money and things are a little bit tight,” said McDaniel. "We have a fairly good-sized children section of clothing and it empties rapidly. You can’t believe how fast it empties out.”
McDaniel expects the customers to keep coming in the second half of the year, especially if people are trying to save money in a difficult economic environment.