Neal Blair made a beeline Wednesday for the U Turn Thrift Store on Gordon Highway when he saw a Kenmore washer and dryer on display in front of the second-hand store.
For Blair, a 22-year-old barber in training, shopping at thrift stores is a hobby, a way to establish credit as he saves up to buy a house and move out of his family’s home.
“I only shop at thrift stores,” Blair said. “I know I can always get what I want without breaking the bank.”
Thrift shopping is burgeoning in the metropolitan area, which has more than 65 such stores. Though few are counting, aficionados say choices have greatly increased since last August, as more references to second-hand shopping – most notably Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ hit single Thrift Shop – hit the mainstream media.
There are more shops across the area, according to online business records, and some have spruced up to appeal to more affluent customers.
On Augusta’s south side, shoppers rifle through display racks alongside businesswomen to score big on Mary Kay makeup, Liz Claiborne dresses and Coach handbags in the Mercy Ministries Thrift Shop. Housed in the 150,000-square-foot Castleberry Building on 15th Street, the center uses its profits to provide financial assistance to struggling families.
“Our customers represent a real cross-section,” manager Eddie Nevarez said. “Low-income; middle-income; unlike other retail outlets, there is no target customer.”
Because there are fewer male customers, men’s clothing is priced especially low to move merchandise, Nevarez said.
“In this economy, people are trying to cut corners any way they can,” he said. “At our store, people can walk out in style while also saving a buck, and nobody is the wiser.”
In Columbia County, Shirley Helmick is known as Nana – the nana of Nana Banana’s Bargains. Her store, which has reported an increase in sales and donations in the first few months of 2013, opened in 2010. The small shop on South Belair Road offers weekly specials, is run entirely by volunteers and donates all proceeds to children’s cancer research.
“We just keep getting stronger and stronger,” Hemlick said. “It’s a blessing how much the business has grown.”