In this time of economic uncertainty, there's one sector of the local economy that's doing just fine. Thrift stores and consignment shops are seeing sales rise and residents are dusting off heirlooms, trying to trade bric-a-brac for cold, hard cash. "I'm retired and on a fixed income; I'm always shopping for a bargain," Maria Madden, 60, said of her regular haunt, the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store at 1291 Kass Circle in Spring Hill. After an afternoon perusing its bins she purchased a black steel can opener priced at 10 cents and a nylon trunk cargo net, used to help hold groceries in place, tagged at $2. "Sometimes you get lucky," Madden said.
Fellow shopper Lucille Maier, 47, of Spring Hill agreed. Instead of buying a $34 computer desk at Wal-Mart, she found a used one for $15 at St. Vincent's.
"It will do for my four children. It's wood; it matches my furniture," she said.
She also purchased odds and ends for a new, "downsized" home, including matching bathroom accessories for 75 cents apiece.
"I don't mind secondhand. You can't beat the price," she said.
Michael Ann Harvey, spokeswoman for Goodwill Industries-Suncoast Inc., said that during the economic downturn, people are discovering the benefits of thrift stores.
"They're a great way to stretch their family dollar," Harvey said.
Goodwill's small Brooksville store at 1260 S Broad St. has seen sales climb 13 percent from the same time last year. Goodwill recently opened a new stand-alone superstore at 4750 Commercial Way in Spring Hill, closing a smaller storefront in May. Though the organization can't compare same-store numbers yet for Spring Hill, regional same-store sales are up by more than 5 percent.
Not bad in a world where retail and food service sales are plummeting across the board. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, September's retail sales were down 1.2 percent from the previous month and down 1 percent from the same time last year.
"I notice that we have a lot more shoppers, and the cars in the parking lots are new-model SUVs, minivans and the occasional Jaguar and BMW. People from all walks of life are finding they can save money," Harvey said.
People are realizing they can not only save money at the secondhand markets, they can make money, too.
Consignment shops will take items in good condition and sell them for a 60/40 split, with the house taking the larger portion.
"More and more people are coming in to make money for Christmas," said Staci Way, 29, owner of Way Classy Consignment at 10528 Spring Hill Drive in Spring Hill.
Her boutique is the creme de la creme of the secondhand market, offering reduced prices on authentic name-brand clothing, handbags, shoes and home decor.
Operating a self-described "picky" resale shop, Way said she accepts only high-end, freshly laundered clothing less than 2 years old and free from stains and rips. Her trendy boutique looks more like a department store. A Coach purse and wallet set that retails for $597 can be found for $230; Steve Madden leather ankle boots for $16.99; a $1,000 Versace handbag, a steal at $350; and Tiffany & Co. sterling silver for less than $100.
"Moms can buy their teens $150 Abercrombie jeans for $24.99. They never have to know they came from our store," Way said, adding that over the last few months her business has increased in both buying and selling.
She said "first-timers" stop in every day looking to make some extra money, or to buy designer clothes, jewelry, perfume, makeup or shoes at a fraction of the price.
"They just can't believe it when they come in here," she said.
Yard and garage sales are also popular.
In order to round up some cash, Carlos Enriquez, 46, has had three garage sales at his Spring Hill rental home in as many weeks. He estimates he has made about $1,000. He says he has unloaded several fishing poles, holiday ornaments, a kitchen table, chairs and most of his houseplants.
Dave Hamilton, operations and management consultant for Career Central in Hernando County, knows exactly what's going on in the local economy.
"There has been a huge loss of construction-related jobs in the area," Hamilton said, explaining that construction traditionally has been Hernando's leading industry.
When the building industry slowed down, it affected all types of peripheral businesses, such as building supply stores and self-employed subcontractors.
According to the Agency for Workforce Innovation, Hernando County's unemployment rate for September was 9.2 percent, up from 6 percent a year ago. Florida's unemployment rate in September was 6.6 percent, with the national average 6.1 percent.
Travis King, 26, a Spring Hill construction worker, said he's pretty much out of work, except for a few side jobs now and then. He and his girlfriend decided to have a garage sale to raise money to pay the rent.
"Work is slow," King said, "and we're just trying to make the bills."