In the market for an Andrew Wyeth print? How about a stunning centerpiece for that dining room table? Or dishware for your daughter's first apartment?
No, this is not a plug for an art gallery or a high-end department store. It is where, if you're quick, you can discover phenomenal buys and a whole new adventure in the world of shopping – thrift stores.
Arguably, once the brunt of jokes and the downtrodden, thrift stores and consignment shops have taken on a new persona. Think trendy, upscale, designer - words once associated with pricey boutiques and name-notable anchor stores which attracted wealthy and middle-class shoppers. These days, a diverse and growing population is drawn to stores where merchandise is “gently used” but can be found in almost pristine condition.
The Opportunity Shop, a legend in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase corridor, is a treasure trove selling everything from teapots to toolboxes; clowns to clay pots; dolls to designer dresses – something for all.
Lila Oliver Asher, a local artist and resident, said the store is interesting. "You can find unusual things in here," said Asher who donates and shops there.
Denese Bartner, who was waiting outside for the store to open, said the Op Shop – as it's often called – is one of the best thrift stores in Maryland.
"You can't name one I haven't been to in this state and nothing comes close to the Op Shop. It's like going into a toy store or a unique gift shop…full of surprises and goodies. They always have something in this store that gets me going and I can't leave without it. It could be a soup dish or a pair of cufflinks," said Bartner, who comes all the way from Baltimore County.
Resale is a multi billion dollar a year business according to the National Association of Resale Professionals (NARTS), a trade group for the resale industry. As traditional stores close, consignment and thrift shops remain robust and are one of the fastest growing segments of retail.
The industry has enjoyed a seven percent growth for the last two years, much of that figure representing new store openings, report NARTS statistics.
Another corroboration that thrift stores are becoming mainstream is Goodwill's recent jump on the auction bandwagon. They have an array of collectibles, vintage and signed items up for auction on shopgoodwill.com.
Although numerous resale shops surround the Chevy Chase area, currently there are only two in the 20815 ZIP code – The Op Shop and All Saints Church. The All Saints store, located on Chevy Chase Circle in the bottom level of the church, is a full-fledged thrift store and accepts solely donations. The Op Shop has both consigned items and donated goods. Both are non-profits, with long histories and are run or backed by church organizations.
"We run the gamut here," said Mary Chyun of the Op Shop. ""It depends on what people are looking for but we've have some very valuable pieces in this store."
The Op Shop, like many non-profit stores, are run by volunteers and operates much like a family business, said Chyun. "We all know each other well and know each other's areas of specialties."
Chyun, herself, a retired estate planning attorney said her staff's backgrounds and experiences helps in pricing and identifying rare and valuable items. "Sometimes we get donations in here and the donors really don't know the value. Our staff is extremely helpful and knowledgeable. We have retired teachers, dentists, all kinds of professionals who know valuable pieces. We've actually encouraged some donors to keep their items," said Chyun.
The uncertain economy has certainly helped the resale industry, said Kay Jansky, one of 75 volunteers in the Op Shop. "We've always had our regular customers but the economy has brought more shoppers for sure."
Thrift shops have much in common with regular stores. They have sale racks and clearance items. Space permitting, they are often sectioned off with household items in one area and clothing, jewelry and accessories in another. Also it's not uncommon for friends to meet, gather and shop as they do in retail stores. The shoppers are as eclectic as the merchandise. The old and the new take as much self space as the priceless and the less expensive. The wealthy rub elbows with cash-strapped shoppers. Students browse along with area housekeepers, young mothers or grandparents looking for books or toys.
These resale stores are different things to different people, said Jan O’Neal, a volunteer at All Saints thrift shop.
Luchinda Wade bought 26 sweaters. "They are for friends, neighbors, needy children and me. Who doesn't need a nice, warm sweater this winter. This way I can help many people and still have change in my pocket. I love this place," she said.
Wade, who does not have a car, said she is a steady shopper and comes whenever she can get a ride. "I will give the woman who drives me one of these sweaters today, since she won't take money."
She said she can't afford to shop at regular stores and is grateful for shops such as All Saints who keep prices low despite the economy. The thrift shop gives a $15 voucher to select organizations, which allows shoppers to purchase items up to that amount.
"We get a lot of workers from households in the area. We also get crafters and people who have their own business and resell the items," said O’Neal. She said because society lives more casually the interest and the purchase of certain items follows suit.
"People don't dress up for church anymore, so they don't want fancy. They want things that go along with the lifestyle they live…makes sense," said O’Neal.
Reema Heinz, a frequent All Saints customer from Bethesda, said formal things are hard to find. "If you're looking for China or silver of furs, forget about it. I noticed that this store, as well as others, reflect how we as a society live. Look around, nice things but nothing fussy and nothing you'd have to iron, or God forbid, polish," she said chuckling.
Heinz said she likes All Saints because it's small and quaint. "If you're looking for unique, this is the place to come but you've got to come early. Early is key."