Shopping in Atlanta's Little 5 Points. Photo credit: Neosha Gardner/ Createherstock

How the pandemic birthed new bargain hunters

Although thrift stores were hard hit by the economic setbacks of the pandemic, swanky areas such as Torrance and Ranchos Palos Verdes in LA County are bustling with a recent wave of shoppers.

Bustling new shoppers is not something one would expect to see during a global pandemic. But when retailers lifted COVID-19 restrictions, thrift stores experienced a surge of donations and surprisingly, more customers. Apparently, in the pandemic, being cheap is chic.

“Once we opened up partially in Los Angeles, people were going out more so they were going to second hand stores,” says Christina Washington, an avid thrift shopper of eleven years.

Two key factors contributed to the growing ecosystem of thrifters: a decline in unemployment rates, as reported by the US Labor Department who tweeted, “The unemployment rate was 6.7% in December – December showed a decline of unemployment rates 8.1% since April.” At the same time, “Payroll employment has increased by 12.3 million since reopening began.” 

For shoppers, that gave them wiggle room to consume, but they opted for a much more budget-friendly avenue. “I went to Uptown Cheapskate and the owner was telling me that since the pandemic, things have actually picked up because no one is going to the store buying regular priced things anymore,” says Washington.

Washington, who watched her mother shop at thrift stores growing up, added that there is an influx of instruction videos teaching people how to find great looks at affordable prices. Washington, who works to ensure that there is diversity in government contracts, also says that these simple videos are also a contributing factor to the current emergence thrifters.

| Read: Grocery store essential workers are not second class citizens

‘Young consumers are a major driver behind the growth of the second-hand clothing industry in the US,’ says Yingjiao Xu in a study comparing consumption patterns between US and China.

Dissimilarly, there wasn’t a noticeable rise in the amount of thrift shoppers during the financial crisis of 2008 as one might think. “There wasn’t much competition,” says Washington as she recounts what thrift shopping was like during that time.

On the contrary, there has been more of an increase in new thrifters over the past two years and now you have to fight for what you want.

“The stores that I go to [are] out of my area where there’s more of a Caucasian population . . . [now they] are flooded with people because [those thrift shops get donors who] donate more high end things.”

By venturing outside of her area, Washington was able to find items such as Kate Spade purses and Jimmy Choo shoes for pennies on the dollar.

| Read: Farmers markets have become essential social spaces since COVID-19

Thrift stores in not-so-well-to-do areas on the other hand, have found themselves on the wrong side of the US Labor Department statistic. The difference is stark.

The Salvation Army USA tweeted, “More families than ever are facing poverty.”

Residents who live in financially harder hit districts do not donate as many luxury items to thrift stores. “The inner city where I live and frequent, you won’t find many things,” says Washington.

On the other hand, according Wit & Delight, some thrift stores are so inundated with items that many aren’t accepting donations right now. In neighborhoods like South Los Angeles, you may find about ten percent of people in the stores, according to Washington. “It’s not much foot traffic . . . but as you go into the more ritzy neighborhoods like Torrance and Rancho Palos Verdes, it’s like nothing’s changed.”

Journalist established in 2001, inspired by transformative leads.

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