For small business owners like Julie Karikas, high prices and a sour economy don't translate to weaker sales and dismal profits.
Just the opposite. Business at her clothing consignment shops is booming.
"We're experiencing record months because people are coming in that have never been in before,'' said Karikas, co-owner of Designer Consigners and owner of the Designer Exchange, both in St. Petersburg. "We don't mean to take advantage of the downturn in the economy, but we're thrilled.''
With the cost of food and gas rising from week to week, more people are turning to consignment shops to make money on their used goods and buy second-hand clothing for cheap.
"It's a good way to make money to buy new clothes,'' said Renee Thompson, 25, who sells and buys from Designer Consigner. "I get the brands that I want to buy but I can't afford to buy at Neiman Marcus. It's kind of like a revolving closet.''
Consignment shops typically give the seller half of an item's selling price. If the item doesn't sell after a few months, the owner can pick it up or have it donated to charity.
The stores operate differently from thrift stores, such as Second Image, or resale shops, such as Plato's Closet. Thrifts accept items only as donations. Resales give cash or store credits on the spot. Consignments tend to pay sellers more because they only pay if an item sells. They do not own the inventory.
Most stores accept just a fraction of the merchandise that comes in. No outdated items with stains or missing buttons. Only name-brand stuff in good or excellent condition. In some cases, the clothing is brand new, with the tags still on it.
Buyers come for the deep discounts and selection, which changes constantly. At Nanny Jean's New 2 U, which carries maternity, children's and men's clothing, a Van Heusen men's dress shirt, still in the package, sells for $8.80. An infant girl's Gymboree dress costs $5.60, and Motherhood Maternity capri jeans list for $6.60.
Owner Jean Bostock has watched business gradually grow since she opened a year ago on Sheldon Road in Tampa. She has a shed full of clothing waiting to be put out on racks and a list of 365 people who have brought in items to sell. "I'm inundated with men's clothing,'' she said.
Mindy Socher, owner of Baby Boomerang, a children's consignment store in South Tampa, says that while the selling side of her business is up, she saw fewer buyers in May, normally one of her biggest months of the year. Rather than buy new outfits, parents are sticking to the basics, such as strollers and car seats..
"People are buying the necessities. They aren't buying the extras,'' she said. "I'm getting great stuff in because they want to get money for it, but I don't think they're spending as much.''