Business casual a casualty of COVID?
Thrift stores have had to adjust to customers' needs during the pandemic.
Before COVID-19 disrupted nearly all aspects of daily life, Refashion Consigned Furniture and Clothing specialized in women’s suits and clothes.
But as people went from working in an office to working from home, the demand for high-end resale business clothes plummeted.
When Refashion opened to customers in June, that shift left their business casual racks untouched.
“There were a few weeks there when we reopened we had four people in the whole week,” said Alisha Arguello, co-owner of the store.
However, she saw an opportunity as other retailers struggled to meet customers’ needs. Customers searching for furniture were happy to see something they could take home that day.
“I was hearing people say (furniture) was out about four weeks,” Arguello said.
Owners Rob and Alisha Arguello began acquiring more furniture in response. Alisha said they're picky about the condition of the pieces they accept because they're competing with showrooms.
For Refashion customers, nice furniture now proved to be an enticing choice against new furniture later.
To expand the store’s furniture offerings, the Arguellos moved the store to a larger location in River Center Plaza on North Broadway. They also bought a truck to be able to deliver furniture. Staff then began to post new acquisitions online, including on eBay and social media sales sites.
“The pandemic changed the way we do things,” Alisha Arguello said. “It forced us to get with the times.”
At Savers, items for kids — and for parents who found themselves suddenly at home with kids — were popular, said Michelle Verna, manager of the South Broadway Savers.
Books, certain toys, and home-school supplies were in high demand during the pandemic, she said.
The thrift store also saw an increase in donated items.
“People were home more,” Verna said. “And when they’re home more, they tend to declutter.”
Savers held off on most furniture donations due to social distancing guidelines in place at the store to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Pieces that required two people to move weren’t accepted until those guidelines were lifted.
“We had an informal rule that if one person could put it on a dolly and get it into the store, we would take it,” she said.
The Rochester stores partner with Disabled American Veterans of Minnesota. Items donated to Savers are actually donated to the nonprofit. Savers then pays DAVM for the items and sells them at the retail store.
Verna said the pandemic gave staff a chance to restructure the store and its layout to allow customers to follow state distancing guidelines. It also gave the store a fresh look, she added.
At Refashion, clothing sales have come back, but the hot items now are athleisure wear. Business wear hasn’t rebounded, Arguello said.
“We can barely sell a suit now,” she said. “But the right hoodies won’t stay around for long.”