Competition pushes Clayton thrift markets

By Justin Boron

Thrift stores are places where a trinket's potential expands with the imagination of the shoppers; where people sift through miscellaneous piles of jewelry and racks of used clothes, searching for a personal treasure that will justify their own unique, shopping prospects.

Some are there to seek out deals that would reward them with profit for their ingenuity n like the three computer desks that Ramona Pogue of Riverdale has sitting at home that she said she doesn't need but will maybe sell for a gain at a future garage sale.

Others look for pieces of glass, porcelain, or metal that tell the story of their lives and personality.

These archeologists of thrift excavate seemingly pedestrian artifacts in hopes of rejuvenating the item's former use in their own lives.

Fran McDonald of Riverdale loves serving dessert. She said she goes thrifting once a week, dredging up used houseware that reminds her of friends or herself.

Recently, she picked out a lackluster pie knife abandoned on a bottom merchandise shelf.

"If you polish it up good, it will be great to serve dessert with," she said.

At the Riverdale location of Value Village, Stephen Jones tinkers with computer towers and monitors that he said he buys for cheap, repairs, and donates to single moms.

The backdrop for these dreams, ambitions, and benefaction is a retail market that has become increasingly competitive in Clayton County.

An amalgam of thrift stores scattered throughout the county provides an ample battleground for the donations, customers, and floor space that make up a thrift store market, said Timothy Alvis, the vice president of operations for America's Thrift Store.

America's Thrift was hit by the wave of competition when Wal-Mart rented the adjacent property in Riverdale to Value Village on Ga. Highway 85, he said.

The red and green Value Village logo hangs right next to the red, white, and blue colors of America's Thrift, producing an iconic image of business competition.

"We didn't like the fact that Wal-Mart rented out the property to that organization," Alvis said. "We we're kind of dominant there."

Initially, its new neighbor put America's Thrift in the red, he said, but the store has adjusted, and started turning a profit once again.

Both corporations have carved out a large part of the market in Clayton County with 20,000-square-foot department stores that offer clothes, houseware, furniture, computers, and electronics.

Gone are the rummage sales of the past where piles of junk were laid out on "dump tables" for people to dig through, said Jerry Parfitt, general manager of Value Village.

Instead of a garage sale experience, most thrift stores aim to give their customer a streamlined atmosphere similar to other mainstream retail stores, he said.

"It probably started 15 years ago, when some of the operators wanted to change the image of thrift stores, Parfitt said. "They wanted to move away from junk stores and started departmentalizing."

As thrift stores' appearance continues to ascend toward mainstream retail design, some of the prices are also approaching the costs of mainstream retail.

The method for pricing of America's Thrift merchandise gives ample room for profit, setting an item's average price at 10 percent below the price the merchandise would sell for new in mainstream department stores.

America's Thrift purchases its merchandise from non-profit organizations, then deducts value based on the items style, condition, and brand name, Alvis said.

The effort to rub the cusp of actual retail pricing aims to prevent shoppers from purchasing items cheap and subsequently selling them at inflated prices, he said.

The for-profit status of stores like America's Thrift and Value Village has created a negative stigma in the industry that Alvis said has spurred attacks on the stores' business motives.

Kenneth Polite, the manager of the Riverdale Salvation Army, said his store depends on the customers loyal to the non-profit's charitable mission.

"Some people just love the Salvation Army," he said. "A lot of times people skip those other places because they know that the money will go help people.

"The goodwill of mankind is entrenched in them, they just know," Polite said.

Alvis said he justifies the profit motivation because America's Thrift donates a large part of its revenue to Christian ministries.

Value Village has no misgivings about its business structure even though its revenue does not benefit any charities, Parfitt said.

"We're for-profit and we make no bones about it," he said.

While thrift competition has tightened in Clayton County, it has worked to produce a better product for the customers, representatives from both stores said.

"It makes it so both organizations sharpen up what they do," Alvis said.

Competition also has not become so heated that the stores are actively trying to subvert one another.

"We run a good operation as far as thrift stores are concerned and so do they," Parfitt said.

News Daily photographer Zach Porter contributed to this article.