The State of U.S. Thrift Shops in 2022

Joel Eisenberg

In terms of financial metrics, the popularity of discount thrift stores small and large has been increasing since the advent of COVID-19, while becoming far more expensive to operate.

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Author’s Note:

This article is based on corporate postings and accredited media reports. Linked information within this article is attributed to the following outlets: The New York Times, Wikipedia.org, SpectrumNews1.com, Google.com, CommunityNews.org, ThredUp.com, and ResellingRevealed.com.

Introduction:

The state of thrift in 2022 is strong but also mixed.

According to a recent New York Times article, “The Golden Age of Thrifting is Over,” U.S. thrift shops have seen better days: “If you donate trash to a thrift store, it doesn’t just disappear,” Adam Minter, the author of “Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale,” said in an interview. He added that smaller stores in particular could easily become overwhelmed by incoming garments, making it “much harder to do the business of running a thrift store.” He said his research had shown that thrift stores have no shortage of donations, especially in recent years.

The article furthers why business metrics have suffered as a result: Stores need more employees and more time to sort through the clothes. Inventory and space issues mean more clothes need to get either sold into the export market for a lower cost or disposed of, which has a financial cost, he said.

Indeed, the driving up of costs to maintain operations is having a challenging impact on national thrift shops large and small, causing many to permanently shutter while others thrive in the chaos.

Let us explore.

Thrift Shops, 2002

Our country’s two largest thrift shops — née the world’s — are those belonging to Goodwill Industries, and Salvation Army.

NewsBreak recently published my related series of articles on the two non-profit organizations, which you can see here:

Both entities have shuttered locations over the last several years — due in part to issues as expressed above — yet Goodwill, by most financial metrics, appears to presently be the higher-performing company, as expressed by excerpts in the articles.

Neither of these companies, however, are in any danger of shuttering.

Wikipedia features a comprehensive overview of the thrift shop industry (as a charitable collective) in general: They sell mainly used such as clothing, books, music albums, shoes, DVDs, toys, and furniture donated by members of the public, and are often staffed by volunteers. Because the items for sale were obtained for free, and business costs are low, the items can be sold at competitive prices. After costs are paid, all remaining income from the sales is used in accord with the organization's stated charitable purpose. Costs include purchase and/or depreciation of fixtures (clothing racks, bookshelves, counters, etc.), operating costs (maintenance, municipal service fees, electricity, heat, telephone, limited advertising) and the building lease or mortgage.

Those that have closed and remain in danger of closing, though, are the mom and pop thrift shops that proliferate in this country, especially in smaller towns, that are predominantly for-profit privately owned businesses. Though foot traffic and donations, especially low-retail-priced clothing, have generally been thriving since COVID, the costs to operate continue to increase.

A targeted Google search will list hundreds of thrift shops that have closed nationwide since the pandemic. However, again, those that are thriving are seeing stronger business than ever.

CommunityNews.org features ”Thrifting: A Pandemic-Inspired Trend That’s Here to Stay” on their webpage.

As excerpted from the article: Thrifting became a necessity for many people during the pandemic, especially for those who lost their jobs temporarily or permanently because of the pandemic's effect on the economy… According to a study commissioned by the online resale platform ThredUp, the U.S. secondhand apparel market is valued at $36 billion today, and is forecast to reach $77 billion in five years. One in five Americans will shop at a thrift store during a given year, about the same number who will shop at a major department store.

SpectrumNews1.com, in its archived 2020 piece entitled “Mom and Pop Shops Struggle to Survive During COVID-19,” stresses the importance of tracking other business barometers: “It’s just heart-breaking because we have a whole store full of products that we can’t sell,” added Raw Materials co-owner and wife, Celia Esguerra. So in the meantime, they’re staying busy. Stocking, cleaning, and clearing. “One thing I do want to make sure we stay on top of is our social media,” said Esguerra.

For a comprehensive primer on thrift stores, see ResellingRevealed.com’s “Largest Thrift Stores In The U.S.A. (Is Bigger Better?),” published in March, 2022.

Conclusion

Repercussions from our global pandemic continue to impact businesses worldwide. Some thrift shops have largely had a difficult time recovering from that fall out, while others — the majority, it seems — are performing immensely well.

Should major news break in this regard, I will share the information here, on NewsBreak.

Thank you for reading.

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I am an award-winning author, screenwriter for film and television, and producer. My mission on News Break is to share socially important perspectives on both culture and pop-culture. Member of PEN America, and the WGA.

Northridge, CA
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