Save money. Save the planet. Sounds like a win-win proposition, right?
It's possible to turn your holiday shopping season into an exercise in thrift and ecological stewardship. Just click out of Amazon, shun the mall for a day or two and find your way to any of several Chattanooga-area thrift or resale stores.
When you make the shift from traditional retailers to re-sellers, even for a portion of your purchases, you are creating value for yourself. Plus, you are helping to keep gently used — sometimes new — merchandise out of landfills.
The Student Environmental Resource Center at the University of California at Berkeley reports that thrift stores help limit the nation's carbon footprint by recycling some of the 10 million tons of clothing that Americans throw away each year, saving water that would otherwise be used to produce clothing — 1,800 gallons for a pair of jeans — and curbing pesticides used to treat cotton plants.
It's also worth noting that each American spends almost $900 annually on holiday gifts according to the National Retail Federation. Denting that cost could free up money for other things.
Worried about seeming cheap? Don't. The thrift-store industry accounted for $10 billion in revenues in 2019 spread across more than 25,000 resale businesses in the U.S., so you'll be in good company. About 18% of Americans will shop at a thrift store during a given year, according to America's Research Group. By comparison, about 19% shop in retail apparel stores and 21% in major department stores.
"While many businesses close their doors every day, resale remains healthy and continues to be one of the fastest growing business segments," reports the National Association of Resale Professionals. "Resale shopping attracts consumers from all economic levels. There is no typical resale shopper, just as there is no typical resale shop."
Visits to several resale stores around Chattanooga yielded an assortment of gift ideas.Especially if you are open to funky, eclectic options such as expensively framed raccoon prints (The Salvation Army Family Store in East Ridge), a hand-marbleized commode (Habitat for Humanity Restore on East Main Street), or a lime green lady's tank top with the tags still on (Goodwill Store on East Brainerd Road).
If your tastes run more to everyday items like Christmas figurines and recycled clothing basics, there's plenty of those, too.
Locations: 7601 E. Brainerd Road, 5082 South Terrace Plaza; 4850 Highway 58; 1966 Northpoint Blvd.; 3321 Dodds Ave.
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
With locations in East Brainerd, East Ridge, the Highway 58 area and Hixson, Goodwill has the city covered.
Goodwill Chattanooga Director of Marketing and Corporate Communications Georgia Dittmer says she has only been in her post for six months, but one of her early impressions of the local Goodwill outlets is the quality of the merchandise.
"The quality of the clothing here was amazing to me," says Dittmer. "You can get name brands for pennies on the dollar."
While most customers don't automatically think of Goodwill stores as holiday gift shopping destinations, Dittmer says some of the clothes in the Goodwill stores are brand new, with the price tags still attached.
A visit to the Goodwill Store on East Brainerd Road — which has taken over a converted supermarket building — showed the range of items available on the resale market. Resale stores are particularly good places to pick up cheap Christmas decorations. Christmas stock at the East Brainerd Goodwill Store included a stuffed Santa doll ($4), a Christmas tree base ($2), and an assortment of used toys including hula-hoops, dart boards and jigsaw puzzles.
Dittmer says grouping several Goodwill items into a gift basket is a good way to package and present the merchandise for holiday gift-giving.
Sample gifts: Angel figurine ($1), Christmas mugs ($1 each), picture frames (starting at $1), men's blazers ($10), women's blouses ($4.29).
HABITAT FOR HUMANITY RESTORE
Locations: 1201 E. Main St. in Chattanooga, 300 Grove Ave. SW in Cleveland
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Habitat ReStores flip donated home improvement goods for a fraction of their retail cost. And, yes, that includes the kitchen sink.
The stores accept donations from individuals and contractors, so there's always a cool mix of stuff — think of it as a Home Depot/estate sale mash-up.
Howard Hall, manager of the ReStore on East Main Street, says the holidays are a good time to shop at ReStores because donors are decluttering in anticipation of house guests. "There's an influx of donations this time of year," Hall says.
It's a good place to shop for Christmas gifts if you have friends or family members with off-beat, midcentury decorating taste. There are not many places where you can get a green velour recliner ($30), a Herp Alpert and the Tijuana Brass vinyl LP ($3), and a pair of snow ski poles that could be used as fireplace pokers.
Occasionally, the store gets a shipment of slightly damaged furniture. On the day we dropped in, there was an array of teak and rattan furniture from the Jeffan company. The slightly flawed items are priced at about 10-20% of their retail value.
One shopping note: The stores are closed on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.
Sample gifts: Plaster Santa ($16), holiday cookie boxes ($1), 10-foot pre-lit artificial Christmas tree ($175), table lamps (starting at $7), bathroom space heater ($15).
SALVATION ARMY FAMILY STORE
Location: 4104 Ringgold Road
Hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For the last dozen years or so, The Salvation Army Family Store on Ringgold Road in East Ridge has been a revenue engine for the local charity. Proceeds from the store are plowed back into local social services, according to Kimberly George, director of communications for The Salvation Army of Greater Chattanooga. Those service programs include helping needy folks with utility payments, medication assistance and budgeting workshops.
"You are not only shopping for yourself, you are giving back," she says. "Our theme this year is 'Fighting for Good.' We want others to join to help us."
On a recent weekday afternoon, The Salvation Army Family Store was teeming with customers. Of all the local resale stores, this outlet has some of the most entertaining items. Aside from those well-framed raccoon prints, we spotted an Elvis coffee table picture book ($5), a Robert Goulet Christmas album ($1), and a tabletop sewing machine ($50).
There was plenty of brand name clothing, too.
"We get Michael Kors purses and Kate Spade bags, Vineyard Vines polos and Joseph A Banks suits," says George. "You name it, we get it."
Sample gifts: Framed portrait of Santa ($4), women's necklaces (starting at $2), massage belt in box ($10).
UNCLAIMED BAGGAGE CENTER
Location: 509 W. Willow St. in Scottsboro, Alabama
Hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
For almost 50 years, Scottsboro, Alabama, has been home to the only unclaimed-baggage recovery center in the country. The Unclaimed Baggage Center now covers almost a city block on West Willow Street in the northeastern Alabama town.
Brenda Cantrell, brand ambassador for Unclaimed Baggage, says almost 1 million shoppers a year visit the nearly 50,000-square-foot complex, which includes men's and women's clothes, sporting goods, jewelry, personal electronics, books and just about anything else someone might pack in a suitcase.
"People come to our store to shop for ordinary merchandise to help them make their budget, or extraordinary things that you can't find anywhere else," Cantrell says.
Merchandise is typically 20-80% off retail price, and fine jewelry is priced at 50% of appraised value, she says. And, unlike ordering online, items can be tried on and/or store tested.
Saturday, Dec. 14 this year will be Sweet Home Christmas at the Unclaimed Baggage Center, featuring hot chocolate, carolers and carriage rides.
Sample gifts: Michael Kors travel purse ($119), first-generation AirPods ($99), David Yurman "Albion" garnet silver bracelets with 18K gold and diamonds ($900).
MCKAY USED BOOKS AND CDS
Location: 7734 Lee Highway
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
A Chattanooga institution for almost three decades, McKay Used Books and CDs is one of the only places locally where you can trade your used books, CDs, DVDs, video games or personal electronics for store credit or straight Christmas cash.
Dawnia Powers, a 20-year employee of McKay, says the holidays always bring an influx of customers as the store turns into one of the city's favorite family shopping destinations.
"Any time the kids are out of school, we are really busy," she says.
And why not? Where else can you buy bulk Legos by the bag or snag last year's hottest video game for a fraction of the retail price?
Increasingly, Powers adds, the store has started stocking some new items for Christmas in an attempt to become a one-stop shopping destination for holiday customers.
Toys represent an increasing share of store sales, managers report. And indeed you can buy a Barbie in a bag for $3.95. But the store's bread and butter is still used books, CDs and DVDs.
If you are traveling for the holidays, there are also McKay locations in Nashville, Knoxville, and Asheville and Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Sample gifts: Michael Jackson "Thriller" LP ($18.95), hardback "The Magnolia Story" ($13.50), Harman Kardon CD player ($84.95), "Madden 18" video game for PS4 ($10.95), Beats over-the-ear headphones ($29.95), 32-inch LCD TV ($79.95).