Article and photos by Thomas Wynne
Rich Burnadz, a 21-year-old college student from Clifton, New Jersey, started going to thrift stores in February 2020 to spend time with his girlfriend. “She enjoyed buying new clothes and I liked spending time with her, so it was a win-win situation,” he said.
Those outings changed greatly due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has affected retail shopping globally. In New Jersey, Executive Order 192 determined that businesses must follow strict safety and health protocols, operating at limited capacity.
A press release by the non-profit organization Goodwill stated that out of its 32 thrift stores in the New York and New Jersey area, five have been permanently closed due to the pandemic. In addition, nine others remain temporarily closed.
Burnadz’s favorite Goodwill store in Fairfield is one of those temporarily closed and he has not gone to another location since the pandemic started. “I am not scared of the virus, but thrift shopping is not one of my priorities right now,” he said. Instead, he and his girlfriend are engaging in socially distant activities, like hiking and going on picnics.
Even though some thrift stores have closed due to the pandemic, the industry might be seeing an increase in sales, according to experts. “People are earning less money due to COVID-19, so they are shifting to purchasing at thrift stores,” said Aditya Jain, a Baruch College professor who is an expert in retail.
Although Jain thinks thrift stores may be doing well right now, he is unsure of a “return to normalcy” in regard to shopping. “There is a systematic change with how customers shop. The pandemic has shifted people to online a lot,” he said.
Since many thrift stores don’t have online operations, Jain explained that they should maintain cleanliness and promote safety. “Thrift stores should follow all social distancing guidelines to ensure they will stay open even during these tough times,” he said.
Some customers seem confident in the safety measures currently in place. Rashelle Jackson, 21, started buying things at thrift stores about a year ago.
During the pandemic, she started following safety measures such as wearing gloves and wearing a mask. “To me, it’s such an easy solution. You wear a mask, you use hand sanitizer, you feel protected,” she said.
Jackson says she has noticed a change in demographics since the start of the virus. “I see so many younger people here, which I don’t like because I don’t want them to take the good stuff,” she said, laughing.
For her, the social media app TikTok is partially responsible for the influx of younger customers, as well as safety concerns that have stopped older patrons from shopping.
Alexa Corbisiero, the owner of online thrift store 412 Vintage, also lists TikTok as the reason for an increase in younger customers. “Popular influencers are showing what good items you can find and young people have nothing to do right now, so people are loving it,” she said. Her sales have been up 64 percent since March.
Corbisiero started thrift shopping at a young age with her family out of necessity, but became so interested in it that she started a shop with her close friend Allie Arciprete. Together they hope to give those with health risks an alternative.
“By having an online thrift store, we can make clothes accessible to people who do not feel comfortable going in a store right now,” she said.
Some who are skeptical of online shopping are finding creative options.
Yarledy Salazar, a 51-year-old accountant from Passaic, New Jersey, who has not gone thrift shopping since March, sends her teenage daughter weekly to shop via FaceTime.
“I am grateful for my daughter and also for the technology that we use,” she said. By using FaceTime, Salazar is able to safely look at items and direct her daughter which ones are worth buying.
Salazar might return to stores when the vaccine is accessible to more people. “I do not see any other way to stop this right now,” she said.