Style 101: Where are thrift stores in New Orleans?

Style 101: Where are thrift stores in New Orleans?
July 17, 2009
Mariah Bond

While many shoppers crowd the malls trying to squeeze in budget purchases, some are ringing up additional sales at thrift stores.

Retailers say more shoppers, whether they wear Rolex watches or live on fixed incomes, are turning to thrift stores to find bargains. That trend translates to higher sales for bargain outlets.

When we look at competition today, it's astonishing, said George Gurtner, director of marketing and development for New Orleans-area St. Vincent de Paul thrift stores. Gurtner cites several new dollar stores now offering items for a fraction of what a mall would charge.

On a recent Saturday, I saw 207 classified ads for garage sales, and garage sales are our competition. It's becoming trendy to shop thrift, he said.

That means more sales for stores whose proceeds serve the needy. And the St. Vincent de Paul store on Terry Parkway in Gretna holds its own while surrounded by several dollar stores, Gurtner said.

At one point, only poor people shopped at thrift stores, but that has not been the case I'm sure for at least 10 years, said Michael Ferrara, director for Bridge House's two stores. Bridge House is a New Orleans-based nonprofit that sponsors drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

Dollar stores have been around for years as part of a market now seeing remarkable success, said Ellen Tolley, spokeswoman for the Washington, D.C.-based National Retail Federation. Because of recent success, she said she did not have market share figures for these types of stores.

People do realize they can get a good deal at thrift stores and dollar stores, which are good at advertising, Tolley said.

In some cases, dollar stores buy another retailer's excess merchandise or food nearing its expiration date so it can sell the items quickly and cheaply, Tolley said.

Dinnerware dated from 1912, ladies' cocktail dresses, precious jewelry and other vintage items can be found at thrift stores for a fraction of their original cost. Gurtner, who finds many St. Vincent de Paul pieces at estate sales, almost priced one necklace at $1.95; upon appraisal, he found out it was worth $25,000.

Sales and donations are both up this year at many New Orleans-area thrift stores, including St. Vincent de Paul's seven stores.

People have a house full of trash and they want to clean their houses up, Gurtner said.

Despite their growing popularity among upper-income families, thrift stores still mainly serve low-income shoppers and those who have been ruined by fire or can't afford clothes for their children, Gurtner said.

The bottom line is we are serving the poor and homeless, and if we pay someone to pick up (merchandise) that cannot be sanitized and resold, then we're not doing our job, Gurtner said.

Proceeds from St. Vincent de Paul's stores, which totaled about $1.5 million last year, help pay for Ozanam Inn, a homeless shelter on Camp Street and The Community Pharmacy on North Broad Street, which fills prescriptions for the homeless and poor for free.

Business will be steady as long as good merchandise comes in. Bridge House runs specials on furniture, appliances and computers, trying to draw in more customers.

Never knowing what you're going to find is a big draw for customers, said Jan Gunter, spokeswoman for Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Louisiana in New Orleans, which covers 23 parishes.

You can go in with one thing in mind and come out with several things you didn't know you were going to find, Gunter said. (Merchandise) changes on a daily basis.

Goodwill's 13 stores in the New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas took in more than $6 million last year, which helped pay for its job-training programs. Goodwill Industries International is based in Bethesda, Md.

The Salvation Army, headquartered in New York, is thinking of buying new items, said Dan Delaney, administrator for all four Salvation Army stores in the New Orleans area. Shoppers tend to hit the malls or discount stores, Delaney said.

Salvation Army merchandise typically sells for about one-tenth what it would cost new at a mainstream retailer, Delaney said. An antique bed and dresser worth $15,000 or $20,000 will sell for $3,000; suits worth $300 sell for $20.

Salvation Army's store sales, which total about $3 million annually, help pay for a drug rehabilitation center that treats 125 people, he said.
So whether there is a specific item in mind or just out to satisfy your curiousity here are a few of the notable thrift stores in the New Orleans area:

Junior League of New Orleans Thrift Shop
- - (504) 891-1289
Bridge House Thrift Store
- - (504) 522-4475
Red White & Blue Thrift Store
- - (504) 733-8066
Goodwill Industries
- - (504) 286-1858
Buffalo Exchange
(504) 891-7443
Bridge House Thrift Store #2
(504) 830-4596
Goodworks Inc
(504) 393-6611
(504) 362-2334
(504) 737-7838
Carrollton Thrift Store LLC
(504) 483-9996
Comments: 0