This story was originally published in December 2020.
Between the historic economic recession and the global pandemic, the gift giving season is going to look a little different this year. Getting gifts from the thrift store is a great way to get something personal and sustainable for your loved ones without breaking the bank.
Not convinced? There is still a stigma amongst some people about secondhand gifts, but attitudes are quickly changing. Studies from the market research firm Mintel showed that the preference for secondhand goods has continued to grow since 2016. A 2019 study by Mercari, a reselling app, found that three in five Americans say they’re comfortable receiving a second-hand item as a gift, particularly something one-of-a-kind or especially hard to find.
“Here, we’ve seen that arise in the last three years,” said Ashley Matthews, owner of A Second Life thrift store in Belgrade. “The last few Christmases, we’ve seen a huge uptick in people buying used gifts.”
Matthews said that this year, fears about catching the coronavirus from secondhand gifts are largely unfounded.
“We sanitize everything,” Matthews said. “The majority of [thrift stores] do. We spend more of our time cleaning than we spend selling. There’s a lot of stigma about secondhand stores being dirty. It’s very far from the truth.”
There are a number of advantages to thrifting gifts. For one, secondhand gifts are better for the environment than new gifts that take resources to produce, package and ship.
“[By] getting something that is recycled and reused, you’re cutting down on the footprint that we all make on the earth,” said Ingrid Kellas, manager at the Fryeburg Thrift Shop.
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Thrifting also helps you get a lot of gifts for a lot of people in one place.
“[It] is an inexpensive way in which to shop for many items in all different categories,” said Joy Walker, owner of Miles in Motion Thrift Shop in Damariscotta. “Also, it is key for some to find the ‘perfect treasure’ to address a particular person’s tastes or personality.”
Plus, thrifted gifts are often less expensive than new gifts.
“Our motto is to sell it for at least half of what it retails for,” said Lou Cataldo, owner of Wicked Good Treasure in Wiscasset. “That helps that consumer out quite a bit. Their Christmas shopping dollar gets stretched a lot further when you can get good deals.”
If you have a keen eye, you can get name-brand items for a fraction of the cost that you would if you purchased them new.
For example, Matthews said that her thrift store is “the largest retailer in Central Maine” of used Bogs Boots, which she sells for between $27 and $60 a pair compared to the retail prices between $80 and $150.
“Some people will wear them for just one season and they get a new pair,” Matthews said. “If there’s one thing that we learned, it’s that little kids love their Bogs Boots.”
Toys are another popular gift in this respect. Heather Steeves, communications manager at Goodwill Northern New England, said Goodwill will even stock some toys that are still in their packaging.
Thrift stores are also a great place to get name brand appliances that are a few years old.
“We sell small appliances all the time,” Matthews said. “Keurigs [are] a huge seller. We get small Keurigs and as soon as they’re up they’re gone.”
Sometimes, items from the thrift store are even higher quality than new counterparts, despite being used.
“We all know that companies just don’t make things like they used to,” said Steeves. “When you find a vintage wool sweater, you know it’s going to be something that can last for the rest of your life.”
Plus, there are some things you can also only find in thrift stores that will make especially thoughtful, meaningful gifts.
“People who are really into vintage Pyrex and certain collectibles, you’re just not going to find that new in a store,” Steeves said. “I think people these days don’t want to fill their homes with disposable junk, and that’s so much of what big box stores have. You have something that will last a lifetime.”
Shopping at thrift stores also supports small businesses as well as important causes. Goodwill of Northern New England, for example, provides programming and workforce training for adults with disabilities. Local, family-owned thrift stores are often associated with their own area causes.
“In our case, people purchasing their items here make it so that we can stay open so that other people can get food and clothing and hygiene items for free,” said Jacqueline Wycoff, owner of Community Closet thrift store in Ellsworth. “Most thrift stores are just family owned or small. When you go into the big stores you’re kind of getting the same things when you’re shopping in the thrift stores you can find the hidden gems that people will really love.”
Worst case scenario? If your recipient doesn’t like the gift, Steeves said, you can just donate it back.