With another store moving into 'resale row' in Ann Arbor, South Industrial is destination for bargain hunters
Lon Horwedel | AnnArbor.com
The options for bargain hunters and resale shoppers keep growing, thanks to the latest addition to "resale row" on South Industrial Highway in Ann Arbor.
Such a Find recently announced it was moving to the strip along South Industrial between Stadium and Eisenhower, bringing the number of resale shops in that area up to eight, counting the eBay store. Business is thriving for the thriftier businesses, attracting savvy secondhand shoppers and bargain hunters alike but it’s a different story for the consignment shops.
The area’s status as resale row comes from relative newcomers Salvation Army, PTO Thrift Shop and Recycle Ann Arbor’s ReUse Center as well as the traditional commission-based resale stores that have been there for 40 years including Klothes Kloset, Top Drawer and Woman in the Shoe.
“I call it the loop,” says Melanie Diana, owner of Such a Find, who says the growth really took place in the last five years when Salvation Army and PTO Thrift moved in. “People go down and make a day of it. Ann Arbor is very resale-oriented. People like the hunt; they like to go into a secondhand shop and find a really cool piece—that’s cheap too!”
Shoppers of all kinds like secondhand shopping, from students and seniors to residents of upscale neighborhoods like Ann Arbor Hills.
Angela Cesere | AnnArbor.com
“Many people look to it as an art,” says Diana. “I’ve gone to dinner parties and people are pointing out what they got at this resale shop or that one.”
Thrifty business For the large nonprofit stores that rely on donations, business is booming. The Salvation Army, 1621 S. State St., has the second highest sales volume of its stores in southeast Michigan, second only to its Rochester Hills location.
“We have increased sales by 25 percent over the last seven months and expect business to continue to grow,” says Erik Maki, manager of the Ann Arbor location.
Business is also going well for the PTO Thrift, 2280 S. Industrial Hwy. Featuring clothes, household items and books as well as a growing furniture section, all of its proceeds benefit the Ann Arbor Public Schools. Last year, they donated $160,000 between the Educational Foundation of Ann Arbor and the public schools.
Although Salvation Army is a bigger operation at 33,000 square feet, PTO holds its own at 12,000 square feet.
“The best-selling items right now are furniture because the students are coming back into town,” says Susan Soth, manager of the PTO, who started volunteering at the store five years ago. Soth was behind the PTO beginning free furniture pickups in the surrounding area. The store puts out 20 carts of new items a day gleaned from the six daily truck pickups.
Like the Salvation Army, the PTO gets all kinds of shoppers, including people looking for deals or scouring for items to resell on eBay.
“When you can get perfectly good wineglasses for 20 cents here, why go to another store and pay $1.50?” says Soth. Clothing is also very reasonable at $3 for a woman’s shirt or pair of pants.
Giving props One of the more glamorous additions to the resale scene is the movie companies who scout the stores for props to fill the scenes of the rash of movies being filmed in the area.
“We just had some movie people here this morning,” says Maki.
“They buy all kinds of things—furniture, TVs, knick knacks, all kinds of little trinkets. David Arquette was here a few weeks ago walking around by himself but we didn’t bother him.”
Maki has helped several production crews this summer including those from the upcoming "Scream 4" and "Machine Gun Preacher" with Gerard Butler.
“They buy thousands of dollars worth of stuff, so we try to assign a staff person to them to make it easier for them,” says Maki. It seems even resale shops have personal shoppers these days.
PTO Thrift has also served the movie companies the last few years, after adding its name to the list that the Ann Arbor chamber of commerce puts out for the movie industry.
“Some movie people came in for that roller derby movie ("Whip It") they were filming with Drew Barrymore,” says Soth. “They bought a piano, which ended up in a bar in Ypsilanti for a scene they were filming. Then the production company donated the piano back to the PTO afterward, which was nice.”
Gary Urick, manager at ReUse Center at 2420 S. Industrial Hwy., believes the close proximity of the thrift stores to each other is especially helpful to the out-of-towners from far reaching suburbs.
“When they come to one of our stores and hear there are two or three other stores just like it within a block of each other, people are pleased from a convenience factor. The parents of incoming new students find it tremendously convenient.”
Urick doesn’t mind the competition of other stores, saying that the “cluster principle that happens in retail also happens with resale.”
“More attracts more. If people want to drop stuff off at Salvation Army but they can’t take it, they can bring it here. Or conversely, we don’t take clothing so we can send them down the street for that.”
Tough market For the smaller upscale ladies consignment stores, however, more stores has not necessarily meant better.
Klothes Kloset, 2401 S. Industrial, sells top items such as St John’s knits and Eileen Fischer for up to 70 percent off the original price.
“I don’t like being around the thrift stores because the people that go there are not the same that go into consignment,” says owner Patricia Wojtowicz.
“Those shoppers come in and get angry and frustrated because they are looking for something that costs like a quarter so they think we are too expensive, or they try to sell me things they picked up at Value Village.”
“When the thrift stores first moved in, I thought ‘Hey, good, we’re all in the area together,’ but then I realized that it really doesn’t help my business.”
Connie Snow, who has owned Woman in the Shoe at 1241 Rosewood for 20 years, agrees.
Angela Cesere | AnnArbor.com
“I thought it was going to be great at first and we even tried to promote the concept of resale row, but I think the Salvation Army is so huge they kind of came in and took over. For me, it has not been good for business.”
Snow adds that most stores on resale row are right on Industrial but she is not quite as visible down one of the side streets.
“You have to turn the corner to come here, and I’m not quite as visible. Years ago, everybody just knew about me. I was practically the only place in town.”
Woman in the Shoe sells housewares, infant and children toys and clothing as well as adult clothing brands like J Crew, Banana Republic and Abercrombie and Fitch for roughly one quarter of the original price. Like many of the consignment stores, they have a core following of loyal customers who shop with them regularly.
“You can come here and find a whole outfit for $20 or a good pair of jeans for $6,” explains Snow, who says it is their busiest time of year with school starting. She adds the store is also a boon for women who need to build their work wardrobe or need a formal dress for a special occasion.
In this economy, Snow is still getting many items in for sale but people are buying less. “Resale is down for consignment stores because people aren’t buying, but that doesn’t stop them from bringing stuff in,” explains Snow.
“They think ‘maybe I’ll make a little from it instead of donating it.’”
Wojtowicz is facing the same challenge. “Resale is actually down by 40 percent in this economy. If people don’t have money, they don’t buy clothes. If they are making a choice between food on the table or clothes, most people choose food.”
Like it or not, the Salvation Army plans for continued growth in the coming year with more bus advertising, game-day parking availability and a brand-new parking lot planned for the spring.
“We recently added a coffee bar and have a hot dog vendor that comes in on Saturdays,” says Maki.
The PTO Thrift is thinking growth, too, having taken on a third warehouse and continuing to expand their donation drives for various groups within the schools such as women’s water polo.
Over at the ReUse Center, Urick says business is consistently good, with no big dips. “Another store moving in around here would be great.”
Laura Blodgett is a freelance reporter for AnnArbor.com