Out with the old, in with more of the old
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
As the national recession has settled into the Roaring Fork Valley, the local retail community has taken its share of hits. But one sector seems to be thriving.
Despite the bad economic news – or perhaps because of it – the number of second-hand and consignment stores in the valley is on the rise.
These are shops that sell used clothing, sporting gear, furniture and just about anything that an individual can carry to the shop and drop off to be sold, sharing the proceeds with the store.
There have been several such outlets operating for years, such as Defiance Thrift Shop in Glenwood Springs, and Near New and Miser’s Mercantile in Carbondale.
But in recent years those standbys have been joined by a growing crop of newcomers, perhaps lured by the plenitude of cast-offs and lower rents thanks to the ongoing recession.
With such names as Ragged Mountain Sports, the Bargain Corner Store and Thrift Thrills, the new shops are, in many cases, taking over vacant retail spaces that otherwise might have stayed vacant for some time.
Those who have stepped up to run what once were seen as marginal enterprises say they are offering a needed service to the buying public and to hard-hit residents with houses full of stuff and a need for ready cash.
Open since last spring, the Ragged Mountain Sports store in Carbondale was so busy one recent day that owner Jenny Hamilton scarcely had time to talk with a reporter.
But her mother, Ruthie Brown of Aspen, was there to help out for the day and provided an explanation for her daughter’s foray into the business world.
“It, mostly, is the right thing to do, because the old business model isn’t working,” said Brown, referring to the complaints from U.S. retailers of all descriptions that nobody is buying anything because too many people are out of work.
Hamilton, 26, lives in Carbondale and presides over a shop crammed with sporting gear of all kinds: bikes, skis, goggles, sun glasses, backpacks, knapsacks, camping gear, roof racks, river rafts and even a foosball table.
On the day a reporter visited, Hamilton was busily accepting consignments from area residents, all bringing in used ski gear to sell, and occasionally pausing to help a buyer to find something.
“There’s so much gear sitting in garages that people can reuse,” she remarked. “It’s sort of a step toward getting a sustainable community.”
Unruffled by the current recession, Hamilton said she decided to go into the consignment business at least partly because it could be done without the capital needed to buy new inventory.
“That’s the beauty of consignment,” she said. “I think it’s the right time, in this economy. I think that concept right now is important, and it works.”
Also in Carbondale, the Encore Collection consignment store specializes in slightly pricier clothes and an array of consignment furniture.
Located at Highway 133 and Cowen Drive for the past eight months, the shop had scarcely opened its doors before it was turning over its furniture inventory nearly every week, said owner Shauna Hembel, an interior designer by training.
And that business pattern has not let up, she said.
“That’s what everybody likes about coming in here,” she said. “It’s always something different.”
In addition to her sales, Hembel said, she has gotten several interior design commissions from customers.
Hembel called thrift store shopping “kind of the new hip thing” where customers can expect high-quality goods at reasonable prices, and where friends can gather and chat while they shop.
A shopper in the store, asked about her experience, was enthusiastic with her reply.
“I like this store,” said Carbondale resident Sue Ellers. “They have my kind of stuff.”
At the Bargain Corner Store in Glenwood Springs, the goods at this point are culled mainly from the home of the store’s operator, long-time local resident Brian Vogel of New Castle.
He said he is open to consignments, “as long as it’s something I think would sell.”
Vogel, 58, said he has lived in the area for three decades and explained that he was injured years ago in a fall that left him mildly disabled.
He used to work at the City Market store in Glenwood Springs, he said, but lost his job recently.
“I can’t find a job,” he said simply. “I’ve got no income coming in.”
So he is running the store with his buddy, Mark VanLeeuwen, whose mother, Adrian VanEckeren, owns the small retail complex at the corner of Grand Avenue and 11th Street where the Bargain Corner Store is located. Next door is the Kaleidoscoops ice cream store and a small barber shop.
“It’s just mix and match, a little bit of everything,” said Vogel, describing the store’s eclectic inventory.
The stock ranges from jackknives and jewelry in one counter, to dolls of various sorts on another, including a full set of the characters from the Wizard of Oz, to compact discs, an electric stand-up bass fiddle, shirts, straw cowboy hats, Halloween masks and more.
Sam Hunter has been the owner of Miser’s Mercantile, at the corner of Main and Third in Carbondale, for 26 years. She has seen economic slumps come and go.
“One of the different things about this economic crunch is, because people can’t find work, they’re trying to buy businesses. And one of the best businesses to buy is second hand stores.”
Rental rates are typically lower during hard times, there’s no big cash outlay to stock up on inventory, and people are eager to bring in their used goods for ready cash.
Hunter said the increase in consignment stores has caused her to change her inventory somewhat. She discontinued used skiing equipment and ski-wear to avoid competing with Ragged Mountain Sports and the Gear Exchange in Glenwood Springs.
While she does not think the increased competition has had any lasting negative affect on her business, there has been an impact, she said.
Last March, she noticed a slight drop in sales, even though “consignments were coming in like crazy, like everybody was trying to sell everything.”
Sales stayed below expectations through May, she said, but then rebounded somewhat and are “generally staying steady.”
In the wake of making adjustments to her inventory, she said, “We’re doing more clothes and housewares.”
Sales today are “nothing like they were before,” she noted, referring to 2008 or earlier.
She believes the used-goods market may be getting oversaturated, which she fears could lead to a thinning of the stream of consignment goods coming to each store.
The Defiance Thrift Store, in Glenwood Springs, one of the oldest in the valley, recently moved a short distance up South Glen Avenue to larger quarters.
Store manager Leslie Robinson agreed that the emergence of new thrift stores marks a change in consumer habits and needs, as well as indicating people’s search for a way to make a living.
“Nobody would start a thrift store unless they saw the demand,” she remarked. “We’ll just have to wait and see what impact other thrifts will have on us.”
She noted that Defiance fills a unique niche in the market, supporting two non-profits with proceeds from sales – LIFT-UP and the Family Visitor Program – as well as honoring vouchers for transients needing free clothing.
The growing popularity of shopping at thrifts has even spawned a local subculture.
Robinson calls them “pickers,” after the History Channel’s popular television series, “American Pickers.” These shoppers come in and buy things at Defiance, then turn around sell them at a profit on eBay, the online auction service.
“Shopping is recreation,” Robinson declared. “We have some people that come in every day. And most of the time, they’re just looking.”
But often, increasingly, they find something to buy.
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