The economy may be slowing, but business at thrift shops, resale and consignment stores in the Valley, state and nation is booming.
"The economy is driving more and more people to look for bargains," said Terri Bowersock, founder and owner of Terri's Consign and Design Furnishings.
Her nine stores are among more than 100 in the Valley that are part of a growing market in Arizona and throughout the nation.
"We call it the 'secondary market,'" Bowersock said.
Nationally, there are more than 25,000 thrift, resale and consignment stores, according to the National Association of Resale & Thrift Shops, and the number is steadily growing.
"More resale shops are opening every week as people become interested in our industry as an inflation-proof business in an unsettled economic climate," reported the thrift shop group in a statement issued from its headquarters in St. Clair Shores, Mich.
These include not-for-profit stores such as those owned and operated by Goodwill Industries and the Salvation Army.
Goodwill Industries generated $1.8 billion in retail sales at its more than 2,100 thrift stores in 2006, a 67 percent increase from 2001, according to the thrift shop group.
The 36 Goodwill Industries stores in the Valley increased sales by 14 percent over last year, said Chandra Stewart, marketing director for Goodwill Industries of Central Arizona.
"While our sales are growing, our donations are less than last year," said Stewart. "Fewer donations is directly related to the economy."
In the Valley, the Salvation Army's seven stores so far this year have enjoyed a 20 percent increase in sales, said Capt. Jim Boyd, administrator.
"But we're getting fewer large appliances donated, which tells us that people are holding on to their more expensive items and selling them at consignment stores rather than give them away," Boyd said.
"They need the money," he said.
Consignment stores sell items such as furniture and then share the profits, usually on a 50-50 basis with the owner. Not-for-profit stores accept donated items and, when sold, use the revenue to support various programs such as half-way houses for the homeless. A third type of secondary market stores, resale shops, buy used items and then sell them, usually for a profit.
Another economic sign of the times is at the Salvation Army's homeless shelters in the Valley.
"We have no empty beds at our shelters," Boyd said, referring to 162 beds at three shelters. "We're doing a lot of business at our stores, sure, but there are more homeless out there, too."
Donations to not-for-profit stores are tax deductible.
Tempe resident Marjorie Meeker shops and sells at both for-profit and not-for-profit stores regularly.
"Even when the economy is good I look for a bargain," said Meeker, who recently purchased a coffee maker and a waffle iron valued at more than $125 for $25 at Terri's Still N Style, 1050 W. Elliot Road, Tempe.
Gerti Strenski, also of Tempe, regularly sells and buys items at all three types of stores, especially consignment shops.
"I wanted to get rid of a lot of furniture, but I couldn't afford to buy new couches or cupboards. So I brought mine to a consignment shop and, in turn, was able to buy another couch and cupboard at a reasonable price I could afford," Strenski said.
Bowersock, a native of Tempe who started Terri's Consignment stores with her late mother in 1979, said between 12 to 15 percent of the shoppers in the U.S. sell and buy at consignment shops. Between 16 to 18 percent shop at thrift stores and slightly more than 11 percent of shoppers buy goods at factory outlets. An estimated 21 percent shop at the major department stores, she said.
"The other big source for sellers and buyers is, of course, the Internet," said Bowersock, who added that an estimated 200 million shoppers use eBay as their marketplace.
Besides consignment and resale shops, Bowersock has also entered the Internet and soon will be expanding by selling franchises for more consignment stores throughout the nation via cyberspace.