Shoppers, Sellers Rediscover Consignment Shops

For some shoppers, an alternative to buying new is buying second-hand. Consignment shops also offer an opportunity for clothes horses to sell some of their wardrobes. Shoppers who normally might walk by a consignment shop are now stepping inside.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Let's find out how one retailer is handling the crisis. NPR's Allison Keyes visited a secondhand store in Virginia.

ALLISON KEYES: Even the window at Encore Consignment Boutique is a wonderland for designerphiles(ph).

(Soundbite of sales pitch)

Ms. GINNY BARLOW (Proprietor, Encore Consignment Boutique): There's the big black one. That was originally 5,800. And then there is...

KEYES: Especially those into handbags, from the limited edition Christian Dior Shearling, to the big, black Chanel.

(Soundbite of sales pitch)

Ms. BARLOW: It's 3,000. And with the sale we'd make it 2,000.

KEYES: Ginny Barlow has owned Encore in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, since 1995. She isn't in panic mode, but she says business is down about 10 percent over the past month. Barlow says it's partly because of the change in seasons and...

Ms. BARLOW: Part of it is the economy, the way that it is right now. I think people are being very selective, a little bit smarter about their purchases.

KEYES: She says stories about financial woes are definitely affecting her shoppers.

Ms. BARLOW: Where they might have, you know, bought 15 items, they'll buy five, you know. Or if they used to buy five, they'll buy one.

KEYES: Some do as Karen Hetterman(ph) does. They buy their beautiful things, but sensibly. The willowy Virginian has an armful of hangers.

Ms. KAREN HETTERMAN: A little red suit. I'm a consultant and work during the week. And then some little fall-colored pants. I'm very tall, so...

KEYES: The mother of two says she might have walked right by this store last year on the way to a big retailer like Neiman Marcus. But this year...

Ms. HETTERMAN: We are more conservative. It's not because we have to, but just because I think out of concern about what might happen to the companies we work with and everything. And so it's, I think, a fear that - the might have to, the need to may come later, and so everybody in our family is definitely at least being more careful.

KEYES: Sally Anne Greer(ph) is a regular at Encore. On this day, she's dropping things off before shopping.

Ms. SALLY ANNE GREER: It's not particularly that I need the liquid cash. It's just that I see these things hanging in the closet that I know someone else could use. I think I'm bringing in more. And I am - I'm definitely buying less.

KEYES: Greer and customers like Moira Thomas(ph) say the panic out there isn't affecting them. Thomas says she's not cutting back on her fashion. And she says she's always shopped here because of the deals, plus she's got willpower.

Ms. MOIRA THOMAS: Usually, if I really see something and I feel the price is right, I'll grab it. Otherwise, I'll look, I'll wait. It eventually will go on sale.

KEYES: But it is hard to be strong around Barlow, who's telling worried customers...

Ms. BARLOW: Maybe you don't purchase as much, but you replace what you have because what you have will not last forever. So, you know, it's OK to shop.

KEYES: Then she pivots toward a rack of fur coats.

Ms. BARLOW: I know you want to try one on. You want me to unchain one?

Unidentified Woman: No.

KEYES: Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington.

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