Pre-Worn Is the New Black

Reporter Laurel Tuohy visits local consignment shops to find out how business has changed in the midst of the recession.

When you’ve tightened your belt to corset-like proportions, as many Wiltonians have during the recession, the best places to find deals are often at consignment shops.

The market for high-quality, secondhand goods on the whole is booming. But, with local townspeople shopping less and holding onto items for longer, how are Wilton's shops faring in the midst of a tough economy?

“Donations have definitely been down,” said Sharon Sobel, president of The Turnover Shop, one of the town's most well-known thrift stores.

Sobel posits that fewer people have sold houses in the area over the last few years due to the suffering real-estate market and this, in turn, has led to fewer closet cleanings and a drop in related donations.

“When people are cleaning out their homes for a move, we are usually the beneficiaries,” she explained, while adding that the spring was slow but contributions picked up in the summer. "I think we are back on target form anything we may have lost this year."

To her point, the shop’s racks are far from barren. On Monday afternoon, the aisles were lined with high-quality items such as sweaters from Vince and J.Crew, jackets from Orvis and Barney Co-op and shoes from Cole Haan and Delman. Shoppers were stocking up on everything from warm clothing to silk flowers and copper chafing dishes, laughing and chatting with friends and neighbors and belying the impression that times are tough.

Sobel was put through her paces behind the register, as a steady stream of customers angled to check out with their treasures.

“We’ve been pretty busy,” she commented when asked if more or less people have been shopping at the Old Ridgefield Road shop. “I think that, while people are still buying the basics such as boots and jackets at department stores, they are very likely coming here for everything else."

The Turnover Shop has been in business for over 50 years and its 150 volunteers work hard to see that it stays that way. The shop’s profits benefit Wilton’s PTA and Nursing and Home Care, both organizations Sobel pointed out "actually need more help now, because of the recession.”

She wasn’t sure if the recent rise in donations at her shop meant that the end of the recession was in sight, but she did note that people had started buying more items that weren’t necessities, such as home accessories and costume jewelry.

On the other end of town, Nancy Vorel owns Red Rose Consignments, an upscale shop that specializes in jewelry, antiques, furniture and collectibles. Business at her Route 7 location has been slow for the last season but was nearly at a standstill at this time last year.

“People are holding onto things for longer periods," she said. "Perhaps they try to put off replacing that winter coat or dining room table for one or two more years. It may be for this reason that, when people do consign, they are bringing in older, out-of-date items."

Vorel owns several pieces of property in town and also mentioned a definite correlation between people not selling their homes and not consigning items. She added that she has begun to see a different sort of shopper searching through her wares.

“Everyone seems to want a deal. No matter what price I put on something, people want it lowered,” she said. Though prices are often open for discussion at shops such as Red Rose, Vorel sees these exchanges taking on a new urgency, perhaps proving that corset-like belts may be the new black after all.

“We used to negotiate, but now people want a bargain.”



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