Vail Valley thrift stores balance value and missions
Shops send as little as possible to the landfill, and often have to pay to recycle TVs, refrigerators
EAGLE — Greg Osteen often hears the complaints:
• Material donated to the Thrifty Shops in Eagle and Edwards ends up in the local landfill.
• Items in the two stores are priced too high.
Osteen, the director of Vail Valley Cares, the nonprofit that operates the shops, has two answers. One is definite, one is subjective.
The definite answer is about material going to the landfill. Unless a batch of donations has been ruined by rain or snow, it’s going to end up one of two places: either the local shops, or in the hands of New Horizons Ministries. New Horizons is a Canon City-based nonprofit that operates thrift shops, with the proceeds going to help care for the children of women incarcerated in state prisons.
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Clothes that can’t be used are recycled into rags or sent to developing countries.
Vail Valley Cares has to pay to recycle some items, particularly old TVs and refrigerators.
“We spend several hundred dollars a month on things we don’t take,” Osteen said.
A little perspective
And, Osteen says a little perspective is needed.
“Everything you purchase is going to end up in the landfill if it’s not biodegradeable,” Osteen said. Donating to a thrift shop just delays that final trip.
The other question is about pricing. What’s a good price? Where’s the balance between providing value to customers and funding Vail Valley Cares’ mission of providing grants to local nonprofit groups.
For people in need, Vail Valley Cares provides gift cards to the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities and other groups.
“We try to take care of people who are truly in need,” Osteen said.
Usually, though, pricing is pretty subjective, but tends to take care of itself.
The stores in Edwards and Eagle have new clearance items every week. After two weeks, item prices are knocked down by 50%. A week later, the price is 75% less than the original.
Osteen said Thrifty Shop employees have a tough job, and need to understand the new prices of countless items. They need to understand the difference between designer jeans and those sold at big box stores.
“I don’t feel we should price a Patagonia shirt at $2,” he said. “That really nice Patagonia shirt for $12 or $13 is a really good deal — it’s $40 or $50 at retail.
And, Osteen added Thrifty Shop employees don’t get the first pick of items. They have to shop off the rack like everyone else.
Time impacts pricing
Just down the street from the Eagle store, the story is similar, but a little different at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.
Julie Kapala of the local Habitat chapter said that store also sends items to New Horizons, and sends as little as possible to the landfill.
The ReStore often receives donations from second home owners and lodges. In those cases, those items are often barely used. The ReStore will initially price those items at 25 to 30% off retail. Items that are of lesser quality can be priced at 50 to 75% below retail. For antiques, art and similar items, people at the store will look online at prices, then post those prices along with the ReStore’s price.
As with the Thrifty Shop, time affects pricing.
The store’s color-coded price tags are a way to keep track of how long an item has been on the floor. Items that have been around for a couple of weeks are discounted 25% from the original price. Many items are knocked down another 50% on Fridays.
“We’re all in the business of moving stuff as quickly as possible,” Kapala said. “Our floor space is limited.”
The specialty items draw more people than casual shoppers, Kapala said. Interior designers often browse the ReStore, looking for special items for special projects.
Like the Thrifty Shops, the ReStore has to balance moving inventory with funding the mission of building homes. The store’s contribution to Habitat’s core mission varies from year to year, depending on what comes through the donation doors. Kapala said the ReStore’s share of Habitat’s annual budget can range from roughly 15% to about 30%.
And, like most thrift shops, the stores’ appeal is to frequent visitors.
“Every time you come in you’ll find something unique and different,” Kapala said. In the case of the ReStore, that applies to appliances and building materials in addition to furniture and décor.
“Before you head to the big box, head to Habitat,” she said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at email@example.com or 970-748-2930.