DELMAR – More than ever, Bethlehem’s residents and non-residents alike are shopping at the town’s local apparel resale shops.
Two consignment shops – The Closet Shop on Delaware Avenue in Delmar and Something Olde, Something New on New Scotland Road in Slingerlands – offer a variety of used vintage and contemporary women’s clothes, jewelry, handbags, accessories, and shoes sold for resale upon consignment. The Treasure Cove Thrift Shop on Adams Street in Delmar, which has been operated by the First United Methodist Church for the past 31 years, sells the same categories of items, but for women, men, and children, and receives its inventory through donations. Treasure Cove even sells resale socks, but draws the line at used underwear.
While The Closet Shop includes couture items among its offerings, the other two shops do not.
Nationwide, the second-hand apparel market has grown by 24% since last year, and predictions say it will continue to grow as people move away from buying full-priced clothing. One recent report by the consignment company ThredUp stated that the U.S. second-hand market is expected to more than double by 2027, reaching $70 billion. According to the report, increased second-hand clothing sales is being driven by consumers seeking value, as well as younger purchasers – particularly Gen Z – for whom sustainability is a major factor.
At Bethlehem’s three resale shops, both factors weigh high on customers’ minds. With most adult items priced between $3 and $5 and infant, toddler, and children’s items at $1-$2 at Treasure Cove, the prices are “incomparable,” according to Taylor MacMillan, 28, who grew up in Bethlehem. MacMillan said he exclusively shops at thrift stores and had just gotten three shirts for $3.
“One person’s garbage is another person’s treasure,” said his dad Stephen MacMillan, who was shopping with him. “You use your money wisely here.”
Jessie Reinhart, a Delmar resident, and mother of three, said she shops at Treasure Cove because the prices and quality are good.
“I have three kids so prices are important,” she said and added that because of inflation, “I am trying harder to get what I need here, like to find shoes for the kids and not just get random cute extras.”
“I love it here. Where can you go and spend $10 and get 10 things?” said Stacey Troeger, who used to live in Delmar and was shopping on an “everything for $1” sale day.
“We get people shopping here from across the economic spectrums,” said Nancy Hodge, a 20-year volunteer at Treasure Cove.
Treasure Cove’s shoppers are multicultural and come from all over the Town of Bethlehem, Albany, Ravena, and Voorheesville, added Liz Lane, another Treasure Cove volunteer.
Anna Campas, Treasure Cove’s Manager, and a volunteer, said she thinks inflation has “definitely” resulted in increased sales.
“People come in and say, for example, how much a swimsuit costs at a department store, but they can get it here for a few dollars,” she said.
At The Closet Shop, a consignment-based store open since 2004, prices are “reduced,” but not inexpensive like a thrift store, said owner Susan Eyer.
She explained the economic appeal of high-end resale purchases. Her customers tend to be middle and upper middle class professionals, ranging in age from their 30s-60s.
“They like fashion, like to look good and are value driven,” she said. “Luxury holds a value and it’s based on perception.”
She brings her customers “really good quality items” that might otherwise be “inaccessible” to them because of price.
Something Olde, Something New owner Karen Moses said, “It’s not like people aren’t going to shop [because of the economy]. People are just more aware of where their money is going, so we attract more people.”
Other resale customers cited the importance of sustainability. Aileen Bievenue, a Slingerlands resident, is a “regular” at Treasure Cove. She noted that 90% of clothes go into a landfill.
“I grew up needing to thrift, and then there became a reason to thrift,” she said, and added that her sons are “thrifting” too for sustainability.
Other customers agreed.
“I try to recycle and reuse as much as possible and I try to shop small,” said Kelli Laque, who works nearby.
Nina Beauchane, a Something Olde, Something New Customer, who lives in Glenmont, said she shops resale because of price and sustainability.
“We have become a throwaway society. I like the uniqueness of sustainability shopping,” she said, “and you can also score a great designer piece.”
Sustainability motivates consignors as well.
“Consigning can be about sharing and keeping things out of the landfill”, said Eyer.
Like many of her customers, recycling is a focus for The Closet Shop’s Eyer.
“I believe in recycling. I got into this business because I love the idea of recycling,” she said.
Neither The Closet Shop nor the Treasure Cove accepts the “Fast Fashion” found at popular retailers like H&M and Shein in their stores because of its negative environmental impact.
Treasure Cove donates its sales revenues to the Church’s mission projects and to several selected charities, including Habitat for Humanity Albany, the Albany Refugee & Immigrant Support Services of Emmaus, Inc., clinics in Mozambique and Sierra Leone, Help For Ukraine and to Native Americans in Oklahoma. All three shops donate unsold/unclaimed clothing to a variety of charities, such as Equinox and to people in need.
However, value and sustainability are not the only factors propelling customers in the door at the three local shops. All three shops report “community” is an essential part of the resale experience that brings customers back, sometimes every week.
“We have about 50 regulars who come in every week. We have many people who are so regular we know their names,” said Campas. “People come here because they meet others here and they start chatting. They come in and talk to us about their struggles and challenges.”
“Sometimes I just come in to look at stuff and socialize,” said Lucia Stimson, 76, a Delmar resident.
Several of the customers interviewed at Something Olde, Something New have been shopping there since the store opened in 1997. Jody Whan, used to live in Bethlehem and now resides in Florida, but made a trip to the store while visiting.
“I love the people here and I feel a sense of community,” she said.
That sense of community infuses the staff as well as the customers.
“Coming here gives me a lot of pleasure, “said Joanne Pierotti, a two-year volunteer at Treasure Cove. “The customers are friendly and so are the people we work with. It’s a fun place, and I meet a lot of nice people here.”
For Eyer, community is as much a part of her shop as clothing.
“A lot more goes on in here than just clothing. This is not just a business for me. People feel safe and comfortable here. Customers come in and have conversations about things that made them feel scared or sad when family and work culture was turned upside down,” she said, adding that she always has a box of tissues and chocolate ready. “People come in and say they are having a stressful day, but they feel peaceful here, and I have real moments of joy and love with customers and consignors.”
There is nothing better, she said, than when someone walks out of a fitting room and she says “Ahh!” and they say, “I love this and I feel great in this!”
Campas recounted how a man once walked into Treasure Cove and needed to be outfitted for a funeral that same day.
“We found him a suit, shirt, shoes and a tie, and when he tried it on, it changed his personality,” said Campas. “When he walked out, he looked really good.”
That sense of community encompasses inclusivity based on size. Treasure Cove carries sizes 0-XXXXL and integrates larger sizes with the rest of its displays.
Eyer said The Closet Shop is “size inclusive” and carries sizes 000Ps to generous sizing “so everyone walks into the shop and feels represented.”
“I want people to feel that everybody matters,” said Eyer.
Because of the communities they create, none of the shops are concerned about competition from big name retailers that have hopped into the resale market or online resale platforms. Indeed, unlike those entities, all three shops do little or no advertising and rely on word-of-mouth and their Facebook sites to attract both customers and consignors/donors.
“This is a lot bigger than only money, Eyer said. “You are taking a portion of someone’s life with experiences and memories and passing it on to someone that will make new memories and experiences with it.”
This story appeared on page 1 of the July 19, 2023 print edition of the Spotlight