- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 14, 2011

This Wednesday marks National Thrift Shop Day, an effort to help spotlight the small-business owners across the District and around the country who are offering affordable and unique alternatives to merchandise usually found in chain stores.

Though the tight economy has resulted in the increasing popularity of thrift shops, District shop owners are trying to attract more customers by convincing them the merchandise and the shopping experience is not always about rock-bottom prices.

“The message we’re trying to communicate is it’s not limited to low-income shoppers,” says Brendan Hurley, spokesman for Goodwill of Greater Washington. “Anyone can shop there.”

In the metropolitan area alone, Mr. Hurley said, Goodwill took in $16 million from store revenue in 2010 and that is was directly affected by Goodwill becoming “more acceptable with [shoppers] who would never have considered coming.”

He personally thanked the “young, hip, fashionistas” who overlook the stigma of shopping at a thrift store, then added, “Ask any discount retailer: There’s a population shopping there because they have to, and that’s fine, we want those shoppers, too.”

Susie Saadian, who in January opened Black-Eyed Susie’s, in Columbia Heights, acknowledges that the recent influx of urban-chic residents has helped thrift stores but says she’s seen a wide range of shoppers browsing her racks for vintage shoes, jewelry and similar merchandise.

“Some people are buying used because they don’t have anything to wear, some sell clothing because it doesn’t fit,” she says. “Here it feels like you’re just going to your friend’s house to borrow something.”

To be sure, the recent opening of several thrift shops in Columbia Heights has largely been the result of a Target store opening in 2008, which was followed by a Best Buy, other popular chain stores and casual dining spots such as The Heights and Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza.

“Now there’s so much more foot traffic,” says Jeff Zeeman, president of the North Columbia Heights Civic Association. “So overall it has to be in the positive.”

Last week, Clint Pierre, co-owner of vintage clothier Rock It Again, paused from adjusted the lighting on a handsome charcoal suit with gold pocket square to recall how the U Street corridor looked before he recently opened shop.

There were “a lot of places that were boarded up,” he said.

Mr. Pierre said the area has now became a place for recreation and specialty shopping in part because the District has not been hit that hard by the economic downturn and “a lot of people moved here … to experience the culture and fashion and fitting in.”

Among the other thrift shops that have opened in the area are Treasury, It’s Vintage Darling and Meeps Vintage Fashionette.

“It’s a case where people are looking for more unique places,” Mr. Pierre said, adding that while the last decade revolved around who was wearing what label, current fashion is “all about the individual.”

• Meredith Somers can be reached at msomers@washingtontimes.com.

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