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Golden Oldies

Everything old is new again in the now trendy world of secondhand stores.

New is nice, but a bargain's better. That's what growing numbers of shoppers are concluding, making the sale of secondhand goods an exciting opportunity for entrepreneurs.

Last year, resale shops saw revenues grow more than 10 percent, according to Susan Whittaker, president of the National Association of Resale & Thrift Shops, whose membership is growing by 25 percent a year. Industry giant Goodwill Industries International has seen sales increase from $359 million in 1991 to more than $513 million in 1995.

But resale hasn't always been booming. The shabby stores of the past kept customers away. Poor merchandising, coupled with a mentality that equated "used" with "bad," meant resale had been a marginal industry until recently.

What's new? Social values, for one. "People's feelings about secondhand things have changed," says Amy Helgren, co-owner with partner Christy Davis of Second Child, a Chicago children's- wear resale boutique. "People are more practical. It goes along with the whole environmental consciousness--recycling and not wasting."

Another difference is the growing sophistication of secondhand retailers. Dusty piles of worn-out goods have given way to attractive displays in well-lighted and well-run stores.

"The upgrade in the shops has really made a difference," says Millie Shaffer, publisher of The Resale Connection, an industry newsletter. "They look professional and are managed professionally. A lot of people can't tell them from regular retail stores."

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This article was originally published in the October 1996 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Golden Oldies.

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