Two big thrift stores coming to West County
By: Carol Enright
If your idea of thrift store is a shabby, hole-in-the-wall filled with racks of worn out clothing, you probably haven’t been to one in a while, but now is your chance. Two new thrift stores are coming to West County.
Savers, a chain that operates nearly than 300 stores in the United States, Australia and Canada, opened its newest location in Ellisville at the corner of Clarkson and Clayton roads on Sept. 27. Savers is a for-profit store that supports local charities by paying for their donations.
Red Racks, which has stores throughout Missouri and supports the Disabled American Veterans, will soon open in Ballwin Plaza off Manchester Road.
Eric Hammerschmidt, store manager of the Ellisville Savers, said first-time thrift store shoppers might be surprised to find a newly remodeled, clean and boldly lit shopping environ. He likened the new thrifts to department stores and said many of the employees hail from upscale retailers such as Dillard’s and Nordstrom.
Seasoned shoppers who already visit West County Goodwill stores, including one in Ballwin and three in Chesterfield, might not be as surprised.
Dave Kutchback, chief of staff for Goodwill, said his organization made a conscious effort to improve the thrift shopping experience – paving the way for newcomers, such as Savers and Red Racks, to capitalize on people’s improved attitudes about thrift shopping.
“We’ve changed what thrift stores are,” said Kutchback. “We’ve provided brightly lit shopping experiences where there’s good value for individuals to come in and be able to enjoy that shopping experience.”
Mark Kahrs, vice president of retail stores for Goodwill, said today’s thrift shoppers are very social, “getting together, hunting for deals (and) enjoying what they see each other buy.”
Giving a nod to the influence of modern media, Hammerschmidt speculated that the popularity of shows such as “Storage Wars” and shopping on eBay has fueled some of the growth in thrift shopping. And Paul Gieschen, market director for Bethesda Lutheran Communities, which operates a Bethesda Thrift Shop in Ballwin, said, “Thrift shopping has become much more chic.”
“A lot of people coming to our stores are specifically looking for retro items, looking for those hidden gems you hear about on the news,” he said.
But a healthy customer base is just one reason West County is an attractive market for thrift stores. The other is donations.
Jerry Orzano, director of stores for St. Vincent de Paul St. Louis, which has a store in Ballwin, said its Ballwin donations “are probably good enough for one-and-a-half stores” in terms of quantity. And Ryan Nabard, district manager for Red Racks, said the difference in quality of the donations it receives at its West County collection site and the donations it collects near its Affton store “is just unreal.”
High quality donations are important, Nabard said, because today’s thrift stores appeal to higher-end customers by being “very picky” about the merchandise they sell.
“We’ve all stepped up our game in terms of presentation and being more Retail 101-like,” echoed Orzano.
That increased attention to merchandising coincides with a national rise in thrift stores. According to the Association of Resale Professionals, the number of thrift stores across the country has grown 7 percent a year for the past two years. America’s Research Group, a consumer research firm, estimates that 16-18 percent of Americans shop at thrift stores annually. This compares to 11.4 percent who shop at factory outlet malls and 21.3 percent who shop major department stores.
Part of that growth is driven by a slow economy and high unemployment.
Gieschen explained that while there are “plenty of people in all of our markets who have the need to shop thrift stores,” there are also a number of middle- and upper-income shoppers who “come in just because the economy has caused them to stop and rethink the value of a dollar.”
As Savers and Red Racks come to town, existing thrift stores see an upside to a more crowded competitive field. Industry professionals liken thrift store shoppers to people who go antiquing or peruse local garage sales for that exceptional bargain or rare find – so the more stores in an area, the more attractive it is to shoppers.
“I think the net of it will be more activity total in thrift stores in this area,” Orzano said.