We have touched on the subject of charity thrift stores here before, but barely scratched the surface. One of the main reasons for starting this blog was indeed our frustrations with these types of stores. So let’s finally begin an initial review of these “charity shops.”
First we’ll differentiate “charity” thrift stores from commercial ones. There seem to be less of the non-charitable types out there these days, but they can be found. Many of the ones we used to frequent have gone out of business. Most of them I would classify as an alternate type of antique store or more accurately – resale store - but dealing in more recent “vintage” clothing and household items. If you like fashions from the 70s, they can be a treasure trove. Of course one primary difference is that they generally sell items that the owners purchased themselves or are there on consignment.
Charity thrift stores, on the other hand, sell things that were donated freely, often as a tax deduction. So understand this point: they are selling items that cost them nothing, and often a small percentage of those goods become tax deductions for those who donate to them. Thus in a way, the government is helping to fund their inventory.
Do you frequent these places? I imagine that most people assume that only those struggling financially will shop there. And for the most part (based on our experience) that’s true. Some, like us, enjoy browsing through thrift stores in search of an unusual or vintage find. Betsy has resold a number of things bought at thrifts for a profit on eBay. I have found any number of things for my Club pot and kitchen gadget collections. It used to be that we would never leave a thrift store empty-handed, but now we do so more often than not.
Now we can’t step foot in these places without marveling at how ridiculously overpriced they are. Often items are priced at near or above the new prices in regular retail stores. Yet the same people in need of bargains continue to shop there. Do they still shop there out of habit? The people who run charitable thrifts seem to have figured out they can push prices up and up without any loss of business. That’s one thing we find the most perplexing.
There are certainly some exceptions. We discovered the wonderful St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store in Kenosha, Wisc. We’ve been there several times. So far we have been happy with the quality and prices we’ve found there. Each time we make the trip we are in fear they may have caught the greed bug that seems to be endemic. Also some bargains can slip through unnoticed. There’s a certain disposable kitchen item I buy regularly that retails for $14-$20 that is often only $2-$3 at thrift stores.
The Salvation Army and Goodwill Industries are the big players in this field. Goodwill stores are generally better even if they are often overpriced. They are obviously more professionally run. Salvation Army stores often are filthy and chaotic. The worst perpetrators are often the independent stores, such as the Miseracordia Twice Blest Thrift Shop in Palatine or the Practically Perfect Resale Shop (of Clearbrook) in Rolling Meadows. Not only can these places be unbelievably overpriced, but some of the staff are habitually rude. Other stores are pristine and pleasant to shop at, but there are definitely very few bargains to be found. Examples of these are the Wings Resale Stores in Palatine, Niles, and Schaumburg and the PHD Resale Boutique in Palatine.
I am of the opinion that simple greed has taken over at these shops, much like what has happened in many other areas of our society recently. They have forgotten their original mission to raise money for their causes and those in need. Why do they price things that they essentially got for free so high? Isn’t it logical that if they priced everything at a substantial bargain compared to retail that they would move more merchandise and make a lot more money to support their programs? That is the reason why they established these businesses in the first place.
What can be done about all this? I’m not sure. I’ve done a lot of research (Googling) and found many specific complaints about charity thrift stores around the country. Yet these complaints seem to fall on deaf ears or most people who feel ripped off don’t know to whom to address their issues. I’m not sure if any of the charity shops are regulated in any way.
We would like to hear others’ experiences on this subject. Ideas on how to remedy this are welcome. I’m often tempted to raise a stink when I find something that is outrageously priced. But as of yet I haven’t. I suspect whomever is in the back room running the place and setting prices will just smirk at my little protest. They have no lack of suckers walking in the door willing to buy the Brooklyn Bridge to bother taking my complaints seriously.