Despite recovering economy, thriftiness still thriving

SANTA ANA, Calif. — Maria Garcia’s front yard sale held no theme.

Shoes, wrenches, blender, a Darth Vader mask — all were on the driveway in front of her one-story Garden Grove home.

A child’s shirt? Five bucks.

The blender? Fifteen.

Garcia, 31, began holding monthly garage sales three years ago to earn pocket money for her father, who had been forced out of the workforce by illness. Times were tough in Orange County then and unemployment was at its peak.

These days, the economy has improved. Local unemployment is 6.2 percent, slightly better than the national average. Home prices are going up.

Still, for people like Garcia, the lessons about thriftiness learned during the dark times haven’t gone away. Garcia works full time. But she also does what she can to save cash, buying cheaper clothes for her kids and shopping at thrift stores for herself.

Garcia says she and her sister once were big mall shoppers.

She also says she hasn’t been to a mall in years.

With people like Garcia taking on new habits, and rappers bragging about 99 cent sheets, and entrepreneurs looking to franchise garage sales, one thing seems clear:

Thrift is chic.

“One man’s trash, that’s another man’s come-up,” raps Macklemore in his and Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop.”

Local and national experts say thrift store sales grew during the past recession — and they’ve continued to grow during the supposed recovery of the past three years.

Thrift stores are just part of a bigger trend. The Association of Resale Professionals reports that national sales in all quarters of the so-called secondhand industry — including retail categories ranging from thrift shops to high-end consignment stores — grew more than 7 percent in each of the past two years. And that number, they add, gives only a glimpse of a hard-to-measure market.

Economists who calculate gross domestic product count the value of goods only one time, the first time they’re sold. So it’s hard to gauge the true volume of America’s thrift economy.

It’s Finance 101. When consumers have less to spend, they look for ways to get more for their money.

But that trend is playing out even as those basic factors — jobs and income — seem to be improving.

Still, it’s possible the fundamentals aren’t as rosy as the economic statistics suggest. And boom times at thrift stores might be a sign that some of the jobs created in the past few years don’t pay enough to send consumers back to the malls.

A couple of years ago, a friend of Yazen Haddad complained to him about the hassles of holding a garage sale.

An idea was born.

Today, Haddad runs Garage Hunters, an Irvine-based company that pairs consignment store owners with homeowners wishing to thin out.

Haddad, who also sells real estate, said decluttering is earning big bucks, and that a typical garage auction Orange County churns out about $1,500. What’s more, his buyers — consignment store owners — are eager for product.

“I see a lot of new buyers,” Haddad said. “It’s definitely a new market.”

By the numbers

•$13 billion: The value of previously owned stuff sold last year in thrift stores, consignment shops, swap meets and similar outlets, according First Research.

7 percent: The annual growth rate in the number of U.S. thrift stores and consignment shops since 2011, according to The Association of Resale Professionals.

32.4 million: The number of used cars sold in the United States through September of this year, a jump of about 4 percent from 2012, according to CNW Research.

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