December 18, 2008 / 7:02 AM / 10 years ago

Americans sell possessions, buy used to cut costs

CINCINNATI (Reuters) - These days, when manager Trish Dollard shows up to work at a children’s second-hand store, parents are waiting outside hoping to exchange their used toys, clothes and baby gear for a little extra cash.

A man chooses winter coats at a coat exchange in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, November 28, 2008. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

“Every morning we open up these doors, people are there, lined up to the door,” said Dollard, sweeping her hand at a snaking pile of used goods waiting to be appraised at the Once Upon A Child store in the Cincinnati suburbs.

Before the U.S. recession hit, Dollard might get 20 people a day bringing in toys and clothes to sell, and they could wait while workers inspected the goods and offered a price.

Now, with 80 or 90 sellers arriving every day, the boxes and bags of used items are stacked nearly to the ceiling, and parents wait a day or two to pocket the cash.

“You can tell people need money,” said Dollard. “They don’t buy anything until they see what they get for their stuff.”

With the U.S. economy wallowing in recession and consumption grinding to a halt, stores that buy and sell used goods from clothing to gold are reporting a big boost.

Nine out of 10 resale stores reported an increase in customers in September and October, while 79 percent said they were seeing new sellers, according to a recent survey of 182 stores by the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops. Three-quarters of the stores said business was up by an average of 35 percent.

“It’s attracted new people across the board,” said Adele Meyer, executive director of the group, noting that while most retailers suffer during a recession, resale stores thrive.


It’s not just unwanted items being sold, and not just outgrown clothes and toys. Jewelers and gold dealers across America say more and more people are trying to sell cherished heirlooms to make ends meet.

“Even items that mean a lot to people, they are forced to sell them, because they need the money right now,” said Tim Hargis, co-owner of Valley Goldmine in Phoenix, Arizona.

Business at his four locations is up by about half compared with a year ago, Hargis said, and people are offering higher quality goods.

Hargis seems a bit haunted by the circumstances of desperate clients, including one car salesman who lost his job when his dealership was shut down.

“He told us he had a really high mortgage payment and a lot of bills and now he had to come in and sell all of the company award rings that he got that were gold. Rings for sales manager of the year, and rings from the dealerships that he worked at,” recalled Hargis.

“He was pretty distraught but he told us ‘I’ve got to do what it takes right now to put the food on the table and take care of my kids.’” He man got about $1,000 for a dozen rings.

Half a nation away, the gold exchanges in New York City are also profiting from the economic hard times.

“We’ve been buying jewelry more this year than ever before,” said Bob Diffin, a buyer at Mendham Jewelers in New Jersey.


Diffin said some sellers are more desperate than others. “Some people will decide in about three seconds to sell it or not sell it, some people will hem and haw, thinking ‘How badly do I need the money?’” he said.

University of Maryland economist Jeff Werling said the sale of used goods does help the economy, since the transactions count toward national consumption and buying goods from fellow Americans trims imports, which detract from U.S. growth.

But Werling said the economic stimulus of such trade is tiny compared to retail — and may not outweigh the pain people feel when they are forced to sell prized possessions.

Psychologist Stuart Vyse says the move by more Americans to shop at second-hand stores may ultimately be positive — if it means U.S. consumers build up an immunity to the advertising and consumerism that got the country into the credit crisis to begin with.

“People who shop in these locations for the first time may continue to do so if they find the experience rewarding,” said Vyse, a professor at Connecticut College and author of “Going Broke: Why Americans Can’t Hold on to Their Money.”

“Second-hand shops break down the desire for the latest new thing and force people to look at their purchases with a new utilitarian eye: ‘I need a new coat, will this one do the job?’” Vyse said.

Additional reporting by Tim Gaynor in Phoenix and Nick Zieminski in New York; Editing by David Storey

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