Erie thrift stores expect business to pick up as inflation rises
It’s no surprise to anyone that prices are rising.
The consumer price index jumped 8.5% a year in March, the fastest pace since December 1981, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
As prices continue to rise due to soaring gas, food and rent prices, some Erie-area thrift stores are expecting business to resume.
Tim Raines, director of marketing and development for the Salvation Army’s Eastern US Territory, thinks Salvation Army stores are good alternatives for consumers when prices for new items increase.
“We like to think our stores are a good way for people to fight inflation,” he said. “We certainly haven’t seen a huge change in our average price per garment. It’s been in the $2 range for about 20 years.
“This period of inflation is relatively new, so it’s hard to analyze trends to say, yes, this is what’s happening in relation to all the different things that go into sales throughout the year. .”
Emily George, owner of The dollhouse at Pointe Fouresaid inflation has encouraged its customers to prioritize quality over quantity.
“They want to get this piece that has held back time, it has a story, it’s handmade, just something unique that you can’t buy at a big box store,” George said.
In 2013, George opened her Pointe Foure brick and mortar business at 2508 Peach St. In 2021, she renamed her business to The Dollhouse in Pointe Foure and moved to its current location at 423 State St.
The Dollhouse is a vintage fashion boutique that sells clothing and accessories from the 1920s to the 1990s. Of Dollhouse’s products, 95% are locally sourced, George said.
Since The Dollhouse is a “premium boutique,” prices range from $4 to $1,200, which is comparable to other platforms that sell vintage products, George said.
“It depends on that person and what they’re looking for, but if they really like it, they’ll splurge on a track,” she said.
Inflation doesn’t necessarily motivate George’s customers to find the best deal, but to find the most sustainable.
“For us, I think people are shopping more consciously and wanting more experience, which I think is causing inflation,” she said.
For much of the pandemic, George said consumers had no choice but to shop online. Having a physical store gives the consumer the ability to touch what they’re buying, George said.
“I think inflation has kind of helped us because people can physically walk into a store and find out what they’re buying,” George said. “Everyone is so used to going to Walmart and getting a $5 shirt, but here we teach about the quality, the brands and the history of the pieces and it helps them understand what they’re getting.
“There aren’t a lot of brick and mortar specialty stores anymore, so I think for us to keep our store and keep the produce fresh, make sure customers can come in, they’re OK and happy to have this experience.”
George said retail shopping is slow between January and April, but as the summer months approach, she sees inflation continuing to push people towards her store’s durable products.
Inflation has not been a business driver for Claudine Thiem, owner of Claudine’s shipment. But if prices continue to rise, she thinks they will.
“I think it takes a month or two before they (consumers) pivot and say, ‘Oh, I need to adjust how I spend my money’ and I see that usually means stores like mine benefit from it,” Thiem said.
Claudine’s, 2208 W. Eighth St. in Millcreek Township, sells used furniture and home decor. Thiem experienced an immediate business boom once his store reopened in May 2020 after businesses closed due to COVID-19.
“People were literally locked in their homes for a month and a half and I think they’ve decided, a lot of spaces they’ve been supporting because they weren’t home often, they’re now 24/7 and 7 days a week and was like, ‘I never liked this room,’ so they wanted the new couch, the new chair,” Thiem said.
At the same time, Thiem’s business has experienced supply chain issues that have both helped and hurt its consignment shop.
“People didn’t want a delivery person to come to their house, they didn’t want to do the sales side yet,” she said. “So whatever was coming in was selling like crazy, and then if people went to (big box furniture stores) they might sell what they had, but in the summer if you went there they said, ‘It’s gonna be nine months,’ and customers said, ‘No, I’m not waiting for a couch for a year. “”
After reopening, Thiem reduced her 7,000 square foot storefront by nearly 2,000 square feet to make up for the inventory she didn’t have. It is also only open four days a week, compared to six before the pandemic.
“It has allowed me to reduce my expenses so much,” she said. “Now I save two days of work, two days of utility, and I earn the same amount. That’s not an increase in sales, but when you take that, it’s an increase in sales.”
Thiem believes demand for his products will increase as prices for new furniture continue to rise.
“Most of the time people still get a decent deal, but it’s never going to be as cheap as Facebook Marketplace or a garage sale,” Thiem said. “I think the prices for new releases will just take a little longer before they come down.”