(Laura Simon) [Order this photo]
"I've found some gorgeous bargains in here," McCline said about the Cape Area Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Cape Girardeau. She waited outside for nearly half an hour along with 30 others Thursday to be first to get inside to see this week's new merchandise.
"I'm desperately looking to get the best stuff I can for as little as possible," she said.
More and more people are thinking like McCline and flocking to local thrift stores in search of a bargain.
Several thrift stores say sales are surging this year as a result, but the increasing revenue isn't keeping pace with the increased needs of the organizations the thrift stores support.
Sales at the Salvation Army Thrift Store in Jackson have doubled this year compared to last year, store manager Dora Sides said. The Cape Girardeau thrift store's business has grown nearly 40 percent, she said.
She believes the prices are drawing new customers in an economy in which every penny counts. While the prices of other items have gone up over the past few years, the Salvation Army Thrift Store's prices have stayed the same, she said.
"You can shop anywhere just about and we've got them beat," she said.
Elizabeth Hileman, director of the Safe House for Women Thrift Shop at 1810 E. Plaza Way in Cape Girardeau, said she's seeing many shoppers come to her store for the first time.
"Two years ago, I knew every face that came in the door. Now, I don't," she said.
The Safe House sold 5 percent more merchandise in this fiscal year, which ended Aug. 31, than the previous year. After having to turn donations away because they didn't have room to store or display them, the shop is moving to 230 Spring St. in January, said Linda Garner, executive director.
Many customers aren't just shopping for themselves, they've got grandchildren or nieces and nephews living with them as families consolidate in tight times, Hileman said.
"They have to stretch their money farther, and at these prices they can. We hear customers say all the time, 'If you weren't here, my kids would not have clothes,'" she said.
While the Safe House Thrift Shop doesn't currently have the space to accept appliances or furniture, it will at its new location.
Those larger household items are what the Cape Area Habitat for Humanity ReStore specializes in, manager Walt Wildman said.
The ReStore opens Thursday through Saturday and does 60 percent of its business within the first two hours it's open each week, he said. On Thursday, three stoves, a refrigerator and an organ were all sold within 10 minutes. In April, the ReStore moved from North Middle Street in downtown Cape Girardeau to a warehouse building at 2365 Rust Ave., nearly doubling its size.
"When we moved, we expected it would coincide with a dip in sales, but instead our sales jumped," Wildman said. He said the store keeps attracting more first-time customers.
"That's what you have to have to build your business," he said. This year, the store's sales have increased 17 percent compared to the previous year. From 2009 to 2008, the ReStore's sales jumped 51 percent.
"The ReStore is our most stable and lucrative source of funding," Wildman said. Habitat for Humanity builds three to five homes a year, and revenue from the ReStore paid the complete cost for one of those homes last year. This year, ReStore revenue will fund a home and a half, Wildman said.
At the Salvation Army, about 30 percent of its program budget comes from its thrift store sales, Maj. Beth Stilwell said.
"That's why it's so important for people to shop at our thrift store, so we can put that money back into our programs," she said.
This year, the Salvation Army has seen a 40 to 50 percent increase in the number of people asking for help providing food for their families or paying rent or utility bills, Stilwell said.
Many people needing assistance are asking for it for the first time. Nearly 150 cases are opened at the Salvation Army every month for people the organization has never served before, Stilwell said.
At the Safe House, thrift shop sales make up about 26 percent of the organization's budget to provide counseling and emergency housing for victims of domestic violence. By expanding its store next year, Garner hopes its sales will increase as much as 10 percent.
"Our problem has been that we don't have the capacity," she said. "We've had to ask people to go elsewhere with their donations, and we hate to do that."
This year, the Safe House's outreach office has seen a 15 percent increase in the number of clients seeking counseling and court advocacy services, Garner said.
"We've avoided a waiting list, but just barely," she said.
Safe House clients also receive free vouchers to pick out items they need for themselves and their children at the thrift shop.
2365 Rust Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO
1810 E. Plaza Way, Cape Girardeau, MO
416 Morgan Oak St., Cape Girardeau, MO
1969 E. Jackson Blvd., Jackson, MO