Thrift Stores: Gone Too Soon?

Apr 16, 2020

Remember shopping?  In stores? The onslaught of the Coronavirus isn’t the only culprit in their ongoing demise. But what’s surprising is that even secondhand shops have been closing in southwestern Virginia, before the pandemic shut everything down. 

Some say the decline of secondhand shops began with the Marie Kondo revolution and it’s founder’s motto: If something in your closet doesn’t give you joy, you should get rid of it.  And it turned out, so many people did that resale and thrift stores were overwhelmed with too much stuff: beautiful clothes, shoes, coats and boots, that just hadn’t been selling.

  “When I came on board, I had actually worked for the previous owner for eight years. She had a fabulous business,” says  Angela Shephard, owner of a high-end consignment shop in Christiansburg called Nicki’s Resale. "I purchased it from her, and my business did very well until about two years ago.  I saw a huge decline. And then it started dropping."

 The shop has been in business for 30 years. But over the last few, Shephard has watched sales dwindle in much the same way as every other brick and mortar, land-based store.  “And then this past year, I started putting things online myself. I'm doing better online than I'm doing in the shop.”

 She’s planning to keep the online business, but not the land-based store. And that may signal trouble for other apparel resale shops.   “Exactly.” She says. "Four consignment stores closed in Roanoke last year and two have closed here in Christiansburg. I don't think there'll be any clothing consignment shops after I close.”

After she sold what she could, Shephard is donating the rest of her upscale inventory. The shop had been full to overflowing, each piece neatly hanging by size and use, from everyday wear to evening.  “We are definitely upscale. We only take brand name things, designer name things. We've always done it like that. Even the previous owners have.We just always carried the nicest of things that we can carry. But even at that, the ‘on-line’ has taken over."

A few long-time clients were there shopping the sale before the consignment shop closed its door for good. A longtime customer named Cindy will miss the place.

 “I think we are a country that's rich in goods and everybody's just saturated with stuff, whether it be clothing, home goods, whatever. We have just become that type of people, but I think people are becoming more aware of it now, and that there's a problem.” 

A huge problem according to new report called ,“The Environmental Price of Fast Fashion,"  published in 'Nature.' It says the fashion industry is the second largest industrial polluter.  Only aviation is larger. And the fast fashion industry is the worst offender: Stylish, inexpensive clothing  assembled overseas to hit western markets fast.  And the clothes are discarded just as fast when the next trend replaces them. And because they’re made mostly of polyester, which doesn’t biodegrade well, those discards end up in the ocean, accounting for more than a third of all the microplastic pollution in it, according to the report.

Again, Angela Sheppard, “The world is changing.  Everything is going digital. Now 24/7 you can shop. I have a lot of people say I wake up at one o’clock a.m. And I can’t sleep, and I get on my phone, and I buy a sweater or a top.”