By Margaret Koss
Thrift stores in the Appleton area may need to start thinking about how to appeal to a less obvious demographic of clientele, namely college students. Young people have been the source of a renewed interest in thrift shopping because of the mix of new and vintage items to be found for such low—affordable—prices. The problem lies in the fact that some stores don’t realize the interest they have garnered in this age group.
Tonya Braun, an employee at Goodwill in Appleton, described the main customers as not really being college age, saying, “It’s mostly older people… some people come here because of the programs we have where the money we make goes back to helping the community. Others come to look around and get what they need.” She didn’t describe a large youth presence, whereas the Fox Valley Thrift Shoppe—located a few blocks off campus—receives hordes of college students.
An obvious reason for this is the fact that the Thrift Shoppe is closer for Lawrentians, but Goodwill isn’t necessarily out of the way, since it’s across from the mall. Surprisingly, the difference in a youth presence could be differences in price.
Reflecting on a recent visit to Goodwill, freshman PJ Uhazie said, “A lot of it is a good price, but there are those items where you’re like, ‘man, this is too expensive for this. I’m paying for someone’s used pants, I don’t wanna spend that much.’” Another Goodwill customer remarked, “The prices here are ridiculous. Six bucks for a shirt with a missing button?” Another referred to Goodwill as “now an overpriced waste of time.”
Deborah Lindsley, the manager of the three Fox Valley Thrift Shoppe locations, described a technique their stores use to keep from things being overpriced and never selling: “We have a rotation system. Every week, it rotates, and if things aren’t sold in that rotation, it becomes half-price.”
Lindsley, who has been manager of the Thrift Shoppe since 1996, explained the attraction of thrift stores being the variety of merchandise, stressing the fact that you can get brand new things at the Thrift Shoppe for less than half the price at a retail store, which is a huge draw for college students.
“We get a variety of different things in as far as current styles, and you don’t have to pay full price. It’s half the price of a regular store. You never know what you’re going to come across because there’s a lot of interesting things,” she said, and continued in detail, “We get antiques, different paintings, a lot of brand new things… it’s a real interesting place to work because you never know what you’re going to open up when you get a box in.”
Uhazie echoed Lindsley’s sentiments when describing why he enjoys thrifting. “It’s just finding the most ridiculous thing possible, you know, finding those secret treasures. I once found a leather American jacket. USA flag, but leather. I haven’t worn it since Halloween but it’s still one of my prized possessions,” he remarked.
Other students expressed finding similar items. Freshman Katharine Kollman, a regular Thrift Shoppe visitor, said, “I found my favorite maxi dress at the Thrift Shoppe for maybe $5. It’s beautiful and is great quality, because I wear it far too often. Lexi [Ames] and I have also had the best luck with finding wonderful vintage shoes, all under $5.”
“The youth is going back to their roots,” Uhazie declared, and while some thrift stores in the area seem to be picking up on this, others aren’t. When asked if he had anything else to add about thrift shopping, Uhazie paused and said simply, “What what, what… what. What what, what… what.”