At the Crossroads Trading Company, Nika Thomas fingers a pair of black leather boots and explains her recent job lay-off. Until last fall, she worked at IKON, an office-supply shop. Then the economy went south, and she was let go. She gave up her frequent shopping haunts.
“I shop less now at stores like Macy’s and Nordstroms,” said Thomas, 23. She settles on the boots, a mid-length skirt and heads to the register. The total is $18. “Now I shop at consignment shops, second-hand stores; that sort of thing,” she said.
She wasn’t the only fiscal conservative at Crossroads. The store trades in new and used clothing on College Avenue in Berkeley. It also buys old clothing for resale and sells a few items on consignment.
“People come in and say, ‘I’ve just lost my job!’ said Crossroads manager Kristofer Velasquez. “But they’re still shopping.”
While the recession has slowed business at most retail shops, Velasquez said that his business has been steady, if not improved. Customers said that Crossroads and other second-hand stores are reasonable compromises between expensive boutiques and lower-end thrift-stores.
“People can still take care of their shopping addiction,” said Velasquez, “but not spend as much.”
About half the shoppers on a recent Tuesday said they’d been laid off at some point. A few have been re-hired. All said they were worried about the sluggish economy.
“My friends are scaling down,” said Matt Russell, as he browsed men’s jeans. “People are worried about the basics – paying bills, getting groceries.”
California’s unemployment rate of 6.2 percent now tops the 5.6 percent national rate, and San Francisco’s unemployment is a record 7 percent, according to recent figures released by the state’s Employment Development Department. And a break from the recession, at least for California, is not in sight.
So even at second-hand stores shoppers want bargains.
“People are not buying as much expensive stuff,” said Emily Gautier, a Crossroads clerk, “it’s more the ten-dollar-and-under pile.” While the occasional Gucci hits the rack, prices rarely top $60 dollars, and most clothing at Crossroads is casual. Some is even a steal. The price for a pair of brown-velvet Gap-pants: nine dollars.
It’s prices like these that drew Dianne Mighetto into the store on Tuesday. She had a baby last month and is searching for non-maternity blue-jeans. Her little girl gives her cause to celebrate, she said, but not to splurge. She has not lost work because of the recession, but it has worried her. Since it began, she said, “everything has changed.”
“I am on a total budget,” she said, her arm cradling ten pairs of jeans. “I’m looking for one pair. These jeans are half-off, so that’s like $12.” Like many shoppers at Crossroads, she wants to find a bargain, but not look like she’s wearing one. The store sells used clothing that is “pleasing,” according to a flyer that outlines the store’s guidelines. It stipulates that it will only buy clothing that is “clean, without spots, holes or odors.” The store’s meticulousness sells.
“It’s nice to cut corners and still get nice things,” said Mighetto. “That’s why I come here.”
Others come hoping to off-load a bag of old clothes. They are recently unemployed and panicked, says Velasquez, and hope to make enough to “pay the rent.”
Crossroads pays sellers 40 percent of the item’s selling price in the store. One woman left the shop on Tuesday with $30 dollars cash for two pair of pants, a suede top and a jean jacket. It’s a handy sum, but probably won’t cover a week’s groceries, never mind a month’s rent.
But then, it all depends on the scale you work with. “There were a few people who worked at Levi’s and had thousands of dollars of free samples and clothing they’d bought with discounts,” said Velasquez. “Then they were laid off. So they brought them down here and sold them to us.”