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Worn again // Consignment shops move upscale with a low-cost chic all their own

As a teenager, Diane Collman learned the excitement of finding a shopping treasure.

"I was born into the Depression," she said. "I believe in "waste not, want not,' and all that. If I can reuse something and save a few bucks, I'm doing well."

When she received an inheritance from her mother seven years ago, Collman decided to leave her job as an administrative assistant and turn her hobby into a profession. She combined creative ideas with assets, took a few business classes and opened the Deja Vu Consignment Boutique at Hudson Lane and N Dale Mabry Highway.

The first months were filled with sleepless nights. "I really was scared," she said. "I am a single woman, and this business was my means. It's not a game for me. I don't know if I would have initially signed the lease without the support of my family."

Today the store, which opened with just Collman's family's clothes, has more than 2,000 consignors who carry their used clothing to the shop and wait for it to sell.

Collman is among many entrepreneurs who have found that one person's closet clutter can be another's treasure. Since it opened, she said, Deja Vu consistently has posted profits with a steady clientele.

And Deja Vu isn't alone. Low overhead, environmentally conscious shoppers and fashion's retro craze have made consignment stores a growing industry. Consignment shoppers are supporting close to a dozen stores in the Carrollwood, New Tampa and Land O'Lake areas _ when they are not heading to south Tampa and Ybor City for older, "vintage" clothing.

"There's no longer the stigma of dark, musty shops," said Adele Meyer, associate manager of the 12-year-old Michigan-based National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops, which has about 1,000 members. "People are not ashamed to say, "I saved money.' "

Roni Schrecengost is among those who are not ashamed. Her ultimate find _ so far _ was a teal sequined prom dress for her daughter last spring. She had seen the dress in a department store priced at $120, but found the same one on a rack at Your Neighbor's Closet in Odessa's Keystone Plaza, tagged at $65.

"I've always loved carport sales, and now I'm learning about consignment stores," Schrecengost said. "Lower prices are the main reason, but there's also a variety if you take the time to look. It's exciting."

"It's like a natural high," said Lacrecia Davis, who opened Your Neighbor's Closet with her mother, Dorothy Rightmyer, a year ago.

Others would describe it as a treasure hunt. "You can find one-of-a-kinds, and that's very exciting," said Deena Ayala, co-owner of Love Me Two Times in Ehrlich Road's Bourbon Street Plaza.

Splitting the profits

The typical consignment arrangement works like this:

You bring your used things to a store, which logs them in and appraises them, based on factors such as brand name and condition. Each item is tagged with the price and your identification number. The store keeps track of what is sold, although the consignor must check in periodically.

The store splits the proceeds with the consignor _ sometimes, but not always, 50-50. Items that have not sold in a specified period of time, usually 90 days, go back to the consignor or are donated to charity.

"Usually people don't ever want to see their stuff again, once they bring it here," said Collman, owner of Deja Vu.

Shoppers do not always find low prices at consignment shops.

A St. John's knit dress at Deja Vu recently sold for $200. Formal dresses at Once Again in Carrollwood Village sell for $200 to $400. The priciest outfit in Love Me Two Times is a sequin and lace wedding dress with headpiece for $400. Fur coats at Annette's Consignment Shop in Skipper Palms cost about $100.

Indeed, some price-conscious shoppers balk at paying $65 for a used suit.

Others, who have seen prices far higher in department stores, reason that an Anne Klein is an Anne Klein, and if it looks good, it is worth the money.

"You're still going to pay the minimal amount compared to what you'd pay for new clothes," said Ayala of Love Me Two Times.

And like the retail chains, many consignment shops maintain discount racks.

"We have a lot of items that are a dollar," Collman said.

Along with saving money, many people feel they are helping the environment by buying used clothes.

"The popularity of recycling, and a poor economy, encourages people to buy from consignment stores," Meyer said.

And opening a consignment shop is surprisingly easy.

"Compared to other ventures, we don't have a lot of costs," said Ayala, who formerly worked at a preschool. "We don't supply the clothes. We don't have to hire other employees because my mother and I can work here."

Love Me Two Times is one of few consignment shops that includes a men's section. Ayala said the men's clothing and women's career outfits are the best-selling items in the store.

As consignment shops have earned a more positive image during the past 10 years, Meyer said, the clientele has shifted.

"We're seeing more and more business women than we used to," she said. "Men's consignment stores are a new occurrence also. Men are realizing they can save a few dollars too."

Different Markets

A shop's location often dictates what you will find there.

Your Neighbor's Closet, in rural Odessa, caters to many horse ranch owners looking for leather boots and jeans.

Carrollwood Village's Once Again has a reputation as the "upper end" of consignment shops. It has the veneer of a local boutique, and many of the sequined evening gowns and linen Liz Claiborne suits are new, bought from stores or brought in by customers who say they were "never worn." The fashionable jewelry and shoes are new.

Annette's Consignment, which draws from Lutz, Temple Terrace and several lower-rent apartment complexes, sells a lot of jeans and men's work clothes.

Unlike many other business operators, consignment shop owners stick together and rely on each other for their livelihood. If a customer cannot find an item at Love Me Two Times, Ayala sends them to other stores.

"Competition brings business to the area," she said. "Once we get you out here, you can go from store to store, looking."

Some store owners have ongoing relationships with their clientele and will call their customers when a desired item comes in.

"That's how we're competing against the big discount stores," Meyer said. "We have this kind of customer service the other stores just can't give."

Vintage clothing is something else consignment shops can offer, where standard retailers generally cannot.

"I love stuff from the '40s _ it's culture," said Deborah Harter, 35, of south Tampa. She shops consignment stores for sequined dresses and flapper hats that she can wear to parties, and finds the largest selection in Ybor City. "I get carried away; it's an addiction. But they aren't going to go out of style. It's all nostalgia, and the glamour wear must have gone to some major events."

Never Out of Style

Although vintage clothes are very much in style in larger cities, they are a little slow finding their way to the consignment racks north of Tampa.

Your Neighbor's Closet displays fur-collared sweaters and pocketbooks from the '40s and '50s. But they do not have price tags, and the store only occasionally carries vintage items. A dark brown lace bathrobe from the early '60s, which looks more like a dress than an intimate item, sells for $11.

La France in Ybor City found a niche selling vintage clothing 22 years ago.

Joni Cormicle opened Uptown Threads, also in Ybor City, 11 years ago. "I started collecting vintage clothes at age 14 when I lived in a small town in Iowa," she said. "Everybody made fun of it, but it's worked out well for me."

Uptown sells men's and women's clothes from the 1930s to the present, ranging in price from $10 to about $50. Cormicle said most of her customers are young, but she also gets senior citizens looking for clothes they wore years ago.

The biggest shock Cormicle has received from the world of fashion is the polyester comeback.

"As crazy as it seems, we've been riding that wave for the last two years," she said.

But popularity can backfire. Right about now, some shop owners are wondering if the '70s craze has worn out its welcome.

"I don't like for people to find out I have a rack of men's clothes," Annette Wakefield at Annette's Consignment said.

"The next thing you know, little old ladies bring in truckloads of their deceased husband's polyester. They think the stuff is great, and I have to tell them I just can't sell it all."

WHAT'S OUT THERE

Annette's Consignments

2532 E Bearss Ave., Skipper Palms

977-6618

Used clothes for women, reasonable prices but not a lot of designer labels.

Deja Vu Consignment Boutique

3623 Hudson Lane, corner of N Dale Mabry Highway and Hudson Lane.

265-1366

Large variety of women's clothes, some designer labels.

Exchanging Hands Consignment Boutique

5341 Village Market, Wesley Chapel

991-4809

Large assortment of jewelry and accessories.

Kids N' More

18427 U.S. Highway 41, Land O'Lakes

948-1579

Children's clothes and furniture.

Kim's Kids

12719 N Dale Mabry Highway, Mission Bell Plaza

960-4228

Large selection of maternity and children's clothes, as well as used toys and furniture.

La France

1612 E Seventh Ave., Ybor City

248-1381

Vintage clothing, some antiques.

Love Me Two Times

5261 Ehrlich Road, Bourbon Street Plaza

968-7559

Rare selection of men's clothing as well as women's and children's clothes.

Once Again Consignment Boutique

4524 W Village Drive, Carrollwood Village

968-5800

Upscale clothing, both new and used.

Once Upon A Child

14839 N Dale Mabry Highway, Marketplace North

264-6119

National franchise selling used toys, books, furniture and clothes.

Reflections Consignment Boutique

4533 Gunn Highway, near Kash 'N Karry

963-2199

Women's and children's clothing, including some designer.

Resale Connection

11727 N Dale Mabry Highway

960-1510

Affordable used clothing.

Uptown Threads

1520 E 8th Ave., Ybor City

248-5470

Vintage clothing, from 1940s to used modern Bill Blass suits.

Your Neighbor's Closet

8525 Gunn Highway, Keystone Plaza

926-1120

Women's and children's clothes, as well as crafts and some vintage clothes.

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