If you’re looking to spruce up your wardrobe and your pocketbook isn’t overflowing, check out the area’s consignment stores. But, you ask, what is a consignment store? Isn’t that a thrift store?
“There’s a big difference,” said Terry Bailo, owner of New 2 You Fine Consignment Boutique in Ballston Spa. “A thrift store is where all the product is donated or given, like at the Salvation Army. A consignment store gets clothes people bring them and if they sell they get a percentage of the sale.
Also, at thrift stores, they generally keep everything until it sells. But at my store, everything belongs to someone else until it sells or is donated. I keep clothes about three months and if it doesn’t sell I donate. I’ll keep jewelry and handbags — I have hundreds, they’re a huge seller — a little longer.”
But buying used clothes?
“Forty percent of what I get still has their tags or is nearly new,” said Kim Sapienza, owner of Finders Keepers in Clifton Park.
Rhonda McMaster-Allendorph and Mehgan McMaster, who own Plato’s Closet in Clifton Park, agree.
“We’re very picky,” Rhonda said. “We sell it all but we pay cash on the spot only for what we think can sell.”
While Plato’s focuses on teen/college wear, the two women also own Style Encore Clifton Park for women’s wear and Once Upon a Child Clifton Park for infant/toddlers, where the product has to maintain the same standard.
“For instance, we’ll sell that little black dress but we won’t sell the mother of the bride wear … and we don’t do prom dresses,” Mehgan said.
And talking of used, how about vintage? That’s the focus at Downtown Designs in Schenectady.
“It’s a specialized market and it’s not inexpensive,” said owner Richard Mare.
He scours auctions, online, estate sales and sometimes people bring him items.
But his customers range from teens or those looking for something different to people in theater or film productions who want the look of authenticity that a period dress, suit jacket, piece of luggage or jewelry brings.
“The 1920s are hard to come by that are in wearable condition,” he said, “but most of the items are from the ’30s to the ’60s or even reinterpretations of the ’70s or ’80s.”
What is important about all these stores, however, is the commitment of their owners to this type of market.
“I’ve always shopped this way,” Sapienza said. “I totally believe in it. It’s a sustainable way to live. And when it’s your dollar, you think more. It’s also an interesting way to shop. When you go into a larger store, you see rack after rack that looks similar vs. one-off kind of items in a consignment store that you can put together for an entire outfit. There’s a lot of individuality in this way of shopping.”
“It’s why I got into this business,” Bailo said. “I was always a consigner. I had a mission to keep my store neat and organized. It’s a lot of work but it’s stayed that way. And it’s become a fantastic business and why I opened the men’s section, to get them to realize how consignment worked and now that’s a wonderful business.”
“I was a clearance rack mom,” Rhonda said laughing. “I loved garage sales.”
So after working for a consignment store since her teens, it took little prodding for her and her daughter to sign up over the last five years with Winmark Corporation, which is a national corporation based in Minnesota, to purchase these three franchises.
The pandemic didn’t affect these type of stores as much as the larger department stores. Athough most closed for two or three months to follow state directives, once they opened business has boomed. But some closed.
“It took a toll. COVID did a lot of damage,” Sapienza said. “Within ten to fifteen miles of me, seven stores closed. Most are one-owner shops. There are no loans or grants for simple shop owners, not for small businesses. But people were cleaning their closets because they’re working more from home.
And there are no galas or big weddings. There’s more casual wear now. I get probably thirty calls a week with people looking for homes for their possessions. I had a woman drive up with 39 beautiful business suits she wanted to consign, but I couldn’t take them. Who’s wearing suits?”
The other aspect of the closure during the pandemic or because of social distancing is that people could not try on a sweater at a store.
“We did a bit of online business when we were closed, but most people want to touch and feel a garment and to try it on,” Mehgan said.
All those restrictions are now over and the stores are seeing new customers.
“Even younger kids are thinking differently and want to save a dollar,” Sapienza said. “And to be more individualistic.”
The number of her consigners has also grown, something she’s grateful for.
“If I don’t have them I don’t have customers,” she said. “It’s also a way to not add to a throw-away society.”
Bailo said that once she opened back for business last summer she can barely keep up.
“Every day I get 200 pieces of clothes. I rotate the stock every day to keep it fresh and I’ve grown my customers … gosh,” she said. “It’s my retirement fund.”
The customers, especially the regulars, are like family for Rhonda and Mehgan.
“It’s been pretty positive. During the pandemic a lot of stores closed because they couldn’t get product. But we go now to each of our stores and can get up to 75 buys a day — all ready to wear that’s not older than three years old, gently used but not beloved,” Rhonda said laughing.
Mare maintained a strong presence online during the pandemic, especially in jewelry sales because in-store sales of his clothes dropped.
“It was a long time since I had talked to customers and I’d missed it,” he said.
But theater productions are now back and movie and theater producers know where to find him as every season he supplies one show or another with “a lot of clothes.”