Thrift Shops, from Life in the USA: The Complete Guide for Immigrants and Americans

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Life in the USA
Public Services I
Shopping

Thrift Shops
This material courtesy of Lisa Maloney

Thrift shops or second-hand shops are usually small, permanent stores run by hospitals, churches, or other charitable organizations. Sometimes you will find a thrift shop run by an individual for profit. Even more rarely you may encounter a large chain of stores such as Plato's Closet or Value Village that operate on the thrift shop principle: selling used goods.

You can find wonderful deals in a thrift shop, such as old-fashioned linens and cookware, or furniture for sale at a fraction of what it would cost new. But, because you're buying used goods, you must shop carefully. Always inspect items carefully to see what condition they are in and whether they work properly. Check to make sure there are no parts or pieces missing. Lastly, look at the price tag. Prices in a thrift shop vary widely, especially when the shop owner doesn't know what it is he or she is putting a price sticker on. You may find an item that you consider to be quite valuable for sale at a low price, or you may find something with a price that's too high.

If you think an item is priced too high, you can try to negotiate. Don't be shy – not all thrift shops will negotiate prices, but many do; it is a common practice and there is nothing wrong with asking politely. Sometimes the cashier will negotiate a price with you directly; sometimes, depending on the size of the store, you may need to speak to the owner or a supervisor. It is perfectly okay to ask to speak to these people, even if the cashier does not suggest it. Just keep in mind that, in the smallest stores, the cashier and the owner may be one and the same.

Some thrift shops will buy used goods from you to resell, while others will let you trade items against the cost of goods from the store. Others only accept cash for their wares and sell only items that were donated, either directly to the store or through a charity.

One unusual word you may encounter in thrift shops is “consignment”. This is when the shop owner lets you put an item of your own up for sale in the store. If your item sells, the shop owner takes a percentage of the profit or charges a small fee, and gives the rest to you. If a consigned item does not sell within a certain period of time, you take it back.

The stock in many stores can change frequently, so it is worth checking back on a weekly basis to see what's new. You might even find out when the new goods are routinely set out, and make it a habit to shop just afterward. Just remember that most thrift stores will not accept items in return once they are purchased. It can be challenging to strike a balance between careful consideration and not missing out on that one-of-a-kind item you may never see for sale again.


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