(The Ragstock Used and New Clothing Store. Photo by Veasey Conway.)
The Clothes Closet is one of several used goods sellers in Northfield whose business has been strongly affected by the recession of the past year.
It might be a sign of the recession’s severity that even some of the used goods stores, where business theoretically would jump in down times, saw their sales drop over the past year.
The Used A Bit Shoppe and Echo Used DVDs & Games saw sales drop sharply since the recession began in 2008.
“People buy new things, and they donate their other things to the shop,” said Lynne Pederson, the director of the Northfield Senior Center, which runs the Used a Bit Shoppe. “Early on, we saw a direct effect on donations. We interpreted that as meaning people weren’t buying new things.”
People gradually stopped buying old things, too, and Pederson said the shop had a negative balance for several months over the past year.
When the store’s losses continued to climb last spring, it was forced to request a rent adjustment from the owners of its space in the River Park Mall on south Water Street. The owners granted the adjustment, and “right now, it’s making the difference,” Pederson said.
A few blocks away at Echo Used DVD’s & Games on Division Street, business was also hit hard the past year and now is just limping along.
“We used to have people buy stacks of movies, and that doesn’t happen very much,” said Scott Houfer, who owns the store with his wife Kerri.
Ragstock, which is part of a used-and-new clothing chain with 14 stores across the Midwest, has largely escaped serious financial distress.
“We’ve been running a lot of weekend sales,” said Emilie Thomsen, the manager of the Ragstock store. “For the last year or so, our sales have been really good here. Company-wide, sales have been increasing.”
Used clothing makes up 20 to 25 percent of Ragstock’s total sales, Thomsen said, a number that remained strong through the recession.
Part of the success at Ragstock and other used goods stores comes from a new class of buyers-middle-class people who’ve been hit the hardest by job losses and devalued investments.
“I’m seeing more business people coming in and buying used clothing,” Thomsen said. “I’m probably seeing more people in their 30s and 40s. We definitely have parents who will bring in middle and high school students, and they’ll all get stuff, even the parents.”
Greenwood has seen a similar change at the Clothes Closet, which is run by the Community Action Center of Northfield.
“It has affected the lower echelon less than the middle class,” Greenwood said. “We have seen more people from the middle class who have had to start using our services.”
From July 1 to Sept. 30, the Clothes Closet’s vouchers for free clothing, given to those who fit the CAC’s financial specifications, reached a value of over $2,700, on pace to reach an increase of 50 percent compared to the year-ago period.
Even at the Used A Bit Shoppe, manager Kristi Casson noticed a change in clientele starting about a year ago.
“It’s not just the people who were in need and couldn’t afford to buy new,” Casson said. “We now see everyone. There isn’t any one group that shops here anymore.”
As the economy begins its tentative climb back to health, Used A Bit has found its finances climbing too, with customers slowly returning.
“We’ve started to see an increase in sales and traffic in people coming into the shop and spending and donating,” Pederson said. “Our heads are above the water now, but we’re just going month to month.”
The Ragstock Used and New Clothing Store. Photo by Veasey Conway.