Secondhand Shopping

22 May 2023

Recent events and Mother Nature have given consignment stores a boon in sales


Every cloud has a silver lining, and for Boulder County sellers of secondhand furniture, the storm clouds of Covid and then the Marshall Fire were lined with the silver of several banner years for sales.

“Everything has changed so much since the pandemic began, and it has been in our favor,” says Diane McCarthy, manager of Greenwood Wildlife Thrift and Consignment in Boulder. The upscale furniture shop introduced an online shop in 2019, just before virtual shopping became our only option. “When we were all locked in and locked down, people started revamping their homes, indoors and out, and we saw a surge in sales.”

“It was our busiest, best year ever this past year,” agrees Clarissa Edelen, owner of Fabulous Finds Upscale Consignment in Longmont, which has sold home furnishings secondhand for 12 years.

“What’s really pushed the trend is the supply chain issues from Covid and then the Marshall Fire,” she says. Hundreds of local families needed to replace everything destroyed by fire, at the same time the pandemic had already delayed furniture delivery by 6-12 months. “First line stores weren’t getting their inventory. That pushed people into coming here, where they can take items home right away.”

Inflation also played a role, of course, as cash-strapped folks searched for bargains; Edelen estimates their inventory is typically priced at 50-80 percent of retail. However, the move toward secondhand furniture is more than simply economic. Several factors have aligned in popular culture to bring secondhand to many people’s first choice.

‘Nothing New’ Brings in the Young

While the majority of consignment shoppers trended toward mature homeowners in the past, “I see more and more younger people coming in, who have jumped on the bandwagon to not buy new,” says McCarthy, who explains such customers usually have green motivations. “We pride ourselves on being in the business of keeping stuff out of the landfills, of recycling everything for the home.”

She also says that these younger customers are less dedicated to brand names than the older generation, instead searching for one-of-a-kind style.

Varied, High-Quality Inventory

Unlike thrift stores, consignment stores offer a curated selection of items, meaning their inventory is often of surprising quality.

“We’re utilized by property stagers and designers, and we have relationships with some design firms doing complete remodels for high-end clients,” says Edelen. In other words, their inventory has been in some nice places before it arrived and often includes a plethora of brand names: Crate and Barrel, Ethan Allen, Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, Woodley’s, Bernhardt and more.

“When you walk into a consignment store, you see one of everything, not multiples of every item,” Edelen says. “You can shop all your favorite stores in a consignment store.”

Hunting as Hobby

Secondhand shopping has also become a hobby in itself, an activity that’s both fun and functional.

“It’s a treasure hunt,” says McCarthy. “More often than not, people walk in for something specific and leave with something entirely different. A lot of people will also say, when we ask if we can help them, ‘No, I’ll know when I see it.’”

She also sees customers who bought furniture, return years later to consign the piece again, hopefully into the hands of new, joyful owner.  “It’s a circle that comes back for us,” says McCarthy. “It’s wonderful that it keeps recycling.”

Secondhand Tips

  • Measure your space before you shop. Perhaps have photos of the space on your phone and bring a tape measure.
  • Thoroughly examine your finds for scratches and dents that might be dealbreakers. Almost all secondhand sales are final.

Be open to repurposing. A contemporary coat of paint can transform more traditional furniture. An armoire might become a wonderful fold-out desk or cocktail bar.

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