For Sellers Of Used Goods, Business Is Booming Business may be slow in a lot of places, but the consignment industry is booming. Worries about high prices for food and fuel have a lot of people trying to sell old items they might have thrown away or donated in the past.
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For Sellers Of Used Goods, Business Is Booming

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For Sellers Of Used Goods, Business Is Booming

For Sellers Of Used Goods, Business Is Booming

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And during this economic downturn, those in the business of reselling used goods are doing better than ever. More people are bringing in their old stuff to sell, hoping to turn it in to some extra cash, as NPR's Tovia Smith reports.

TOVIA SMITH: Ed Pomfritt(ph) never used to worry so much about money. As a sales manager in the mortgage industry, he was making in the six figures. But that was before the mortgage crisis slashed his earnings by two-thirds, before he had to support a parent in assisted living and before grocery prices went through the roof and gas hit $4 a gallon.

Mr. ED POMFRITT (Mortgage Sales Manager): I've depleted every 401K I have had, and it's been, you know, a real bad couple years.

SMITH: Now Pomfritt is one of many people looking for new ways to make some cash.

Mr. POMFRITT: So this is what I'm bringing in today. It's a Bobby Orr doll. And I got this when I was about six years old, and it was from my mom and dad. It was a Christmas present.

SMITH: Signed to you.

Mr. POMFRITT: Yeah, signed to me from Bobby Orr. So I'm going to give that up.

SMITH: Pomfritt plunks the doll down on the counter of a local eBay drop-off store. It's the modern version of the old pawn shop. They take your stuff, auction it on eBay, then give you back a cut of the proceeds - usually about half.

Mr. RICH BOBIAN(ph) (eBay Store Manager): So, we could get anywhere from $75 to $125, maybe more. You know how it is.

SMITH: Pomfritt smiles at store manager Rich Bobian and hands over the rest of his Bobby Orr collection.

Mr. BOBIAN: This is the famous Stanley Cup shot, huh?

Mr. POMFRITT: Yeah, the 1972 Bobby Orr. (unintelligible) he scores!

Mr. BOBIAN: Wow.

SMITH: It was once one of his most prized possessions, but now Pomfritt says it has to go.

Mr. POMFRITT: It meant everything, actually. It means everything to me now, too. It's just the cash is just a lot more valuable to me than having Bobby Orr in my basement collecting dust. You know, my little five-year-old girl not maybe going to get an ice cream because we have no money, that's going to hurt. But Bobby Orr's album, I'm moving it out of here.

Mr. BOBIAN: We'll take these.

Mr. POMFRITT: All right, great.

Mr. BOBIAN: You know how - the routine, right? It's taking us a couple weeks.

Mr. POMFRITT: A couple weeks?

Mr. BOBIAN: Yup.

SMITH: In this particular store in Sudbury, Massachusetts, volume has doubled from the same time last year.

Mr. BOBIAN: The stuff is coming in faster than we can list it, and the busy time starts actually after Labor Day.

SMITH: Bobian says he sees everything from businesses who's gone under and want to sell their computer and phone systems and entire inventories to families who've lost their homes and want him to sell everything they had, including, literally, the kitchen sink.

Mr. BOBIAN: The euphemism, I think, is we're downsizing. We're seeing a lot of that.

SMITH: Bobian says he's noticed people digging deeper than they used to and coming in with more valuable family heirlooms: china, crystal, collectables.

Mr. BOBIAN: They're taking things that they were hoping to hold on to and pass on, things that they didn't expect to have to sell. You can hear it in the voice. It just has to go. You know what I mean? You just hear that, that they need that cash.

Ms. JEAN BLACK WHEATY(ph): And you just put your shoes in there and put a nametag on it, and on the floor, under the rack.

SMITH: Clothing consignment shops are seeing a similar boom,

Ms. WHEATY: These are the (unintelligible) that I was going to wear to a wedding.

SMITH: Wow, look at those. Striped, blue, green, yellow.

Ms. WHEATY: Yeah, they're fabulous. You know, wonderful summer party shoes, but they didn't work.

SMITH: At The Closet Exchange a few towns away in Needham, Jean Black Wheaty is dropping off a bag of the closet clutter she's hoping to convert to cash.

Ms. WHEATY: You know, the old days, I'd say oh, I'll fit into it. Oh, I'm probably wear it. I'd hang onto it. But now, it's going. I could have, you know, groceries or a tank of gas.

SMITH: Shop owners say they, too, see people bringing in pricier things these days, like fine jewelry and high-ticket designer bags, but as people dig deeper…

Ms. MAGGIE STARK(ph) (Consignment Store Owner, Needham, Massachusetts): This one actually has some spots on it, so we won't be able to do that one.

Ms. WHEATY: Okay.

SMITH: Owner Maggie Stark says sometimes it means they're digging too deep.

Ms. STARK: You hit the back of the closet, or you hit Grandma's closet, and it's a lot older than two years with massive shoulder pads, a lot of polyester - now that's got to go.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SMITH: The really good news for consignment shops is at the same time their supply is increasing, so is demand for used clothes at bargain prices. Many women who bring in clothes to sell don't even bother taking a cash payout. Instead, they take a store credit, so after they drop, they can also shop.

Ms. STARK: Thank you.

SMITH: Tovia Smith, NPR news.

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