Posted Oct 5, 2009
Used items luring upscale shoppers
By Denise Perreault
PBN Staff Writer
The first floor of Providence Place is a prime retail location, home to such venerable names as Nordstrom, Ann Taylor, Macy’s, Tiffany & Co and the Apple Store.
But since August of last year, a store most people never would expect to see in a high-end shopping mall has been vying for business among them: Second Time Around, an upscale consignment shop specializing in used merchandise or, as industry insiders prefer to say, “pre-worn” or “pre-owned” clothing for men and women. Prices for stylish shoes, designer jeans and the like are as low as one-half or one-quarter of that charged in retail stores for the same merchandise brand new.
If someone had said a decade ago that a used-clothing shop would be located at Providence’s premier shopping center, “you would have said, ‘no way that is ever going to happen.’ It’s amazing,” said Jeffrey Casler, owner of Second Time Around.
“It’s quite amazing,” agreed Melanie St. Jean, associate professor of fashion merchandising and retail management at Johnson & Wales University. “It’s a sign of the times. People today are more careful about how they spend.”
More and more people are turning to secondhand stores to satisfy their shopping desires, particularly upscale consignment stores such as Second Time Around. These are not people sifting through goodwill bins for life’s necessities; they are looking for the best bargains they can find on stylish and chic pieces, even luxury items.
Compared to even a decade ago, “there is a much greater acceptance from all levels going into consignment stores,” said St. Jean. “I see it growing, and it’s growing very quickly. I am hoping that this generation – those in their early and late 20s – catch on that a consignment store can be a great place to go for business attire, interview attire.”
The upscale consignment stores in general carefully screen the kind of merchandise they accept and many boast about the designer labels they offer, particularly in women’s clothing and accessories like jewelry and handbags. At Consignors! on Frenchtown Road in East Greenwich, for example, genuine famous-name handbags that retail for $300 or $400, “I sell for one-quarter of that,” said Lynda Peters, owner and operator.
Peters, a local real estate agent who opened her six-room emporium of used goods about 18 months ago, recounts an experience that many others in the trade probably share. At prom season, a man came into her store and confided that he did not have the money to outfit his daughter for her high school prom, an undertaking that could cost as much as $400 or $500 when a new gown and accessories are included.
So Peters went to work, doing what she says she loves to do best.
“I love putting things together,” she said. “I have a lot of fun when people come in and we put together outfits from head to toe.” Working with her good-sized collection of formal women’s wear, she dressed the girl, including gown, handbag, jewelry and shoes. “That little girl looked like a million dollars,” Peters said, “and we did all for under $100.”
Consignment stores are not the same as resale or thrift stores. At consignment shops, the people who provide the items receive a share of the profit when sold. Thrift or resale stores deal in donated goods, with no payments to donors. All can be considered secondhand stores.
Clothing, jewelry and other accessories for women are the most common merchandise in consignment shops. Men’s clothing is a rarity. Second Time Around at Providence Place carries a limited selection, for instance, as does Act II on Hope Street in Providence. Finding large sizes even for women can be a challenge, although Peters in her East Greenwich store says she carries sizes from 0 to 2X, including formal wear.
A key benefit of consignment stores – not shared by thrift or resale shops – is that people can make money selling goods they no longer need and, in today’s economy, that’s a big draw for a lot of folks.
Robert DelBonis, owner of 2 Timer Consignor shops in North Kingstown and Warwick, has seen a sharp rise in the number of clients wanting to sell. “Sometimes it gets overwhelming,” he said. “It seems like there’s more and more inventory coming in.” Instead of donating goods outright, people “want to see if they can turn a buck,” he said, “and that’s OK. They make money and I make money.”
Tina Asadorian, of Betty’s Xtra Goodies in North Kingstown, says her 6,000-square-foot store is full. Sometimes, she is forced to turn consignees away.
Neither she nor DelBonis is complaining, however. “The more you take in,” Asadorian said, “the more sales you can make because the more variety you have.”
She opened her shop at the end of June, after using eBay to sell for several years, and said she probably does a slightly better business in furniture than clothing.
DelBonis opened his North Kingstown store more than two years ago and the Warwick store, last October. “I’ve sold everything from a pet rock to a canoe,” he said.
New secondhand shops open in this country at the rate of 7 percent per year, according to the National Association of Resale & Thrift Shops (NARTS) based in St. Clair Shores, Mich. The association estimates that there are 25,000 in the nation. The group has 1,100 members, including resale and thrift stores as well as consignment. As of September, the organization listed 18 members in Massachusetts, but none in Bristol County, and three in Rhode Island. But the latter certainly has many more than three.
Some 45 consignment stores are listed in a pamphlet published and distributed by Spotlight Marketing of Rhode Island, the Consignment Shopping Guide in the Ocean State for 2009.
Nationally, sales at secondhand shops are increasing, according to the association.
In a survey of second-quarter sales, in which 263 secondhand stores responded, the association in August said 64.1 percent saw sales rise from the same period in 2008, with the average increase at approximately 31 percent.
“According to America’s Research Group, a consumer-research firm, about 16 percent to 18 percent of Americans will shop at a thrift store during a given year. For consignment/resale shops, it’s about 12 percent to 15 percent,” the association said.
Casler, who owns 21 Second Time Around stores in eight states and Washington, D.C., can attest to the growth of consignment shops.
In the consignment business for 18 years, he said he has opened five new stores in the last year. Other stores he owns are on Newbury Street (two of them) and at Harvard Square in Boston, Burlington Mall in Burlington, Mass., Atrium Mall in Chestnut Hill, Mass., and Greenwich, Conn.
Casler is convinced consignment stores soon will be part of the mainstream, if they are not already.
Peters believes that consignment stores bring to the retail industry the old-fashioned personal service often lacking in large department stores today, as well as merchandise, especially furniture, which was better made years ago.
“When you come into a consignment shop and find a piece of jewelry or a piece of furniture that you know was somebody’s grandmother’s, you know it is unique and it is well-made,” she said.

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