Traditional retailers may be feeling the pinch of the recession as consumers cut back, but thrift and consignment stores are thriving.
PAWSibilities, the Humane Society of York County's new thrift shop located behind the nonprofit's office, sees a steady stream of customers and donors during the two days it's open.
"We get 25 to 50 customers each day," store volunteer Bonnie Fuchs said. "We had so many customers we decided to open it Saturday in addition to Friday."
Carol Wertkin is one of those customers. She's been a repeat customer since the store opened in December, and stops in every week. Sometimes she comes to donate items and always ends up leaving with something, she said.
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"I come every Friday or Saturday, sometimes both," Wertkin said. "I keep coming back for two reasons; One, to do right by the animals; Two, you can't beat the prices when you see something you want."
All money raised at the store goes to the Humane Society, which provides the county's only no-kill shelter for dogs and cats. All of the people who work at the store are volunteers, so there are no salaries to worry about. There's no rent, either, because Dr. Robby Chappell, the veterinarian next door to the Humane Society office, donated the space. And Storett of Tega Cay, a self storage facility, has donated two storage units to PAWSibilities for six months. Since opening on Dec. 6, the store has brought in $5,680.
The store carries "a little bit of everything," Fuchs said. Paperback books sell for 50 cents and hardback books are $1. Children's clothing is priced from $1 to $8. Toys, dishes, cookware, artwork, candle sticks, blankets even cameras can be had for only a few bucks.
The store is open from 1 to 4 p.m. Fridays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. Donations are accepted during business hours or can be dropped at the Humane Society office when it is open during the week.
"Some customers say we're underpriced, but we want the merchandise to go because we have so much more coming in constantly," volunteer Elaine Seigel said.
Another repeat customer and occasional volunteer, Judy Lafreniere, orchestrated a massive donation of office furniture, shelving, even Polaroid film for the store. Her company, Consumer Programs Inc., recently bought a new facility and is in the process of clearing out an office in Matthews, N.C. Much of the furniture is now in storage at Storett and in the basement of the Art Mill, home to the Fort Mill Art Guild on Main Street.
In addition to the brick and mortar location at 2036 Carolina Place, past the Lowe's Home Improvement, PAWSibilities also does business in cyberspace with listings on Craigslist.com. Most of the larger items that don't fit inside the small store end up there. Anything the store can't use or sell it donates to other nonprofits, such as Habitat for Humanity, Seigel said.
To contact the Humane Society, call 802-0902.
PAWSibilities isn't the only game in town though. Between Friends Children Consignment and Boutique on Tom Hall Street in downtown Fort Mill also has plenty of low cost children's clothes and accessories. Business has been picking up there of late as well, according to employee Carrie Youngblood.
"In the past two weeks business has picked up a bit," Youngblood said. "Before Christmas it was really slow ... now it's both more people shopping and we've had more consigners."
Whereas the merchandise at PAWSibilities is all donated the sales at Between Friends are split between the store and the person who brought the items in to sell. The consigners keep 40 percent of the sale price, Youngblood said.
The store is seeing an influx of larger items like strollers and cribs, she said. There is also a high demand for baby play gyms and high chairs. The vast majority of items in the store sell for less than $10, but Between Friends does sell some "big ticket" items through Craigslist.com and eBay. It also maintains a Web site, www.bfriendsshop.com.
Between Friends is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. Consigners need to make an appointment between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday to sell items at the store. It carries children's clothes sizes 0-14 and just about everything else the parents of a small child could need.
The store has been relying heavily on word-of-mouth advertising, but Youngblood said one of the challenges it faces is that there are so few similar businesses in the area.
"Part of the problem we have is we're the only one here," she said. "So if you don't know the area, you don't know we're here."
Youngblood is optimistic that the economic factors hurting major retail outlets will actually help thrift and consignment operations.
"Outside of the store, the economy is bad, and it will get worse," Youngblood said. "I think people will turn to stores like this one and Once Upon a Child (in Pineville, N.C.) for kids items because they can get it at a better discount."