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Wednesday, October 21,2009

The thrift district

Two thrift store giants now reside in the same shopping plaza

by Chris Parks

If you’re on the hunt for a vintage Lacoste sweater, a used exercise bike or an entire catalogue of Dan Fogelberg LPs, you may need look no further than a shopping plaza on Lansing’s west side.


In September, Volunteers of America opened a thrift megastore in a shopping plaza on Saginaw Highway near the corner of Waverly Road — separated by only an L&L supermarket from a longstanding Salvation Army store.


Does this mean there’s a thrift war brewing?


Brian Wilbur, director of thrift for VOA Michigan, says that the decision to open the store was made out of necessity, in keeping with the goals of the organization: to help the community by supplying jobs and supporting itself in part through retail.


“We opened up the new location obvious ly because of need,” Wilbur said. “The need in the community is overwhelming.”


He
added that despite the Salvation Army’s presence, as well as Goodwill
down the road, people are always looking to save a buck.


“Everybody needs good, quality secondhand clothing as they try to stretch their dollar,” Wilbur said.


Wilbur
also said one of the biggest reasons for the new location was customers
had expressed a desire for another store on the west side of town. VOA
operates a larger thrift store on Cedar Street, stuffed to the gills
with second-hand goods, more in line with the Salvation Army.


VOA
employee Regina Jackson transferred from the Cedar Street store to
Saginaw Street and says customer response has been glowing.


“We’ve had a lot of awesome feedback from customers. Shoppers love our prices and products,” she said.


On
a recent day, Virginia Serna and Victoria Gelista had come over from
the Salvation Army to check out the new VOA for the first time. Gelista
noted that, “The hangers are the same color, even,” and thought the new
format would be good for other thrift stores to use.


“I think there’s a lot better quality, some of this looks brand new,” Serna said.


Wilbur said that the availability of a large retail
space — the VOA replaced a furniture store — played a role in the new
location. The new store, however, is about 5,000 square feet smaller
than the Cedar Street store.


With
the stores a quick walk from each other, it might be natural to assume
a rivalry would exist, despite their common goals of assisting those in
need. It does not appear to be true in this case, though.


Maj.
Jimmy Wilson of the Salvation Army said while they were not aware of
the VOA’s plans to join the plaza, there isn’t any real sense of
competition between the two.


“You don’t want to over-saturate anything, but I don’t look at it in an adversarial way,” Wilson said. “We’re
there to help people, and we both have programs that offer support so
it’s legitimate for both groups to be doing what they’re doing.”


Wilbur
echoed Wilson, saying, “We’re here to support the community just like
they’re there to do the same. We do a great service and they do a great
service.”


Ultimately,
the arrangement may prove to be mutually beneficial, in terms of
creating a central location for their particular types of services. On
a recent day, people of all ages and types filled the stores. And after
finishing shopping at one store, people were observed making their way
across the parking lot in search of more deals.


“When
you have two (stores) of a similar kind it sort of becomes a hub for
the area.” Wilson said. “It certainly becomes more convenient (for
shoppers).”


While
the Salvation Army thrift store feels absolutely packed with items, in
a good way, the new VOA store is expansive, and feels more like TJ
Maxx. There appears to be a lot of room to be filled out in the store.


“You
can come into (these) stores with $20 and come out with outfits for
four people,” Wilbur said. “I think it’s great for all our customers.”





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