Thrift stores make their bid for Black Friday shoppers

NEW YORK — Secondhand stores are trying to muscle in on the Black Friday blitz this year.

Thrift and consignment shops are betting that people who have bought more used things for themselves since the recession will buy used gifts this year. They’re copying other retailers with gift certificates, elaborate window displays and early-morning specials.

For the first time, some Salvation Army resale shops will be open at 6 a.m., touting 75 percent-off early-bird specials on the traditional kickoff of holiday shopping.

“People didn’t consider us an option for Christmas gifts, but the stigma is wearing off,” says the Salvation Army’s Major Henri Graciani, who manages 10 stores in the San Diego area that will be opening early.

Goodwill Industries Inc. recently opened its first temporary Christmas shops to increase its presence during the busiest shopping period of the year. The two stores, in Tacoma, Wash., area shopping centers, carry holiday furnishings, decorations and gifts. They’ll be shuttered Jan.2.

A rise in store vacancies since the recession has allowed retailers to temporarily enter or ramp up in certain markets without making a big financial investment.

At Goodwill, which operates 2,500 stores, sales rose about 10 percent each of the last two years. The National Association of Resale & Thrift Shops, the industry trade association, predicts a big increase in holiday sales this year.

Merchandise varies at secondhand shops. Most consists of used and slightly used items donated by individuals. Some goods are new and still in their packages, overruns from manufacturers or suppliers.

Returns usually aren’t accepted at secondhand shops, so Goodwill is promoting gift certificates this year. So is Housing Works, a 50-store chain in the New York City area.

Roundabout, an upscale consignment shop with four stores in New York and Connecticut, will wrap gifts this year, owner Laurie Perren says. She says she’s seeing more interest from wealthy buyers.

Perren has saved the best designer bags and accessories for Black Friday. She’s also been more aggressive in urging regular customers who sell on consignment to bring in evening wear and other holiday fare.

“This is a sign of the times,” John Long, a retail strategist at Kurt Salmon Associates, says of the economy. “It’s also a reflection that while consumers themselves are really looking for value, they’re not abandoning the brands that they traditionally bought. They’re finding a great brand at a discounted price at a thrift shop.”

Renewed interest in glass ball ornaments and other traditional holiday decorations also is helping these merchants. Resale shops often get goods that have been in households for years. Secondhand items also appeal to people who are passionate about the environment because thrift-shop goods have been recycled.

Longtime thrift-shop devotee Ruth Handel, 46, from Mar Vista, Calif., says she’ll be buying vintage jewelry and crystal glasses as gifts.

“I am not going to buy clothing like a used blouse, unless it’s something like a vintage apron from the 1950s,” she says.

Stan Williams, author of “The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating,” and a blog called elegantthrifter.blogspot.com, advises secondhand shoppers to tell their loved ones where they bought the gift, maybe even brag a little about the special find.

“There’s always a story behind each gift,” he says.

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