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Goodwill stores, consignment shop post gains

BRANDON

In the parking lot, Porsches and Mercedes-Benzes sit next to more modest, worn automobiles. Inside the Brandon Goodwill Superstore, bargains bridge the socioeconomic divide.

Once the stepchild of shopping, thrift stores are gaining new ground with budget-conscious consumers, said Michael Ann Harvey, spokeswoman for Goodwill Industries Suncoast.

"Goodwill stores are different than those that most of us remember from our childhoods," Harvey said. "There's certainly no stigma associated to thrift shopping, especially in this difficult economy."

Many shoppers said they turned to stores like Goodwill for luxe items at low prices.

Jordan White, a seasoned thrift shopper, once found a Dooney & Bourke handbag for $5 at a thrift store. The designer purses retail for hundreds of dollars.

White also turns to thrift stores for clothing. "I live on my own now, so I definitely can't go to Abercrombie or Lucky's."

Consumer demand coupled with donors' generosity produced a solid year for Goodwill, Harvey said.

Nationwide, Goodwill stores posted a 7 percent increase in sales in the last fiscal year, Harvey said. Business throughout west-central Florida increased 14 percent. Brandon's Goodwill ranked fifth in sales out of 2,000 stores nationwide.

Business is also booming at other area thrift stores, including Lighthouse Ministries, which opened a Brandon location in July.

Kim Allen, who started Next to New consignment about six years ago in Plant City, said she records a nearly 25 percent sales increase every year. She predicts a higher growth rate for 2010.

Many of her consigners are also shoppers like Colleen Bennett, a local insurance agent.

"I have to deal with the public, and this way I can have more of a wardrobe," Bennett said. "Everyone always asks me where I get my outfits. Now the whole office shops here, too."

At the Brandon Goodwill, senior assistant manager April Carroll has seen all sorts of interesting donations.

There was a Charlie McCarthy ventriloquist's dummy, vintage Barbies and a mounted deer head trophy. Sometimes a wrapped gift arrives.

"I have the fun of opening it," said Eva Hollenbeck, another assistant manager.

Money sometimes turns up unexpectedly. Goodwill employees have found it in handbags, behind a bottle of perfume still in the box and under the glass of a picture frame. Unclaimed money goes into the Goodwill donation fund.

The lure of thrift shopping has reached across genders.

"We've seen businessmen come in and buy five to 10 suits with matching ties and shirts," Carroll said.

Belinda Kramer can be reached at hillsnews@sptimes.com.

Goodwill stores, consignment shop post gains 11/26/09 [Last modified: Thursday, November 26, 2009 3:30am]

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