Resale shops in Eugene offer the frugal buyer a variety of choices
By Sydney Bouchat
In here, nothing bought is ever new. Each item comes from humble, often desperate, beginnings. Every worn out ’90s television speaker, every tarnished gold necklace, every unwound VHS originally belonged to someone else, someone who saw it, loved it, bought it and then sacrificed it. This is a treasure trove of some stranger’s last-ditch effort to make ends meet. This is a secondhand shop.
As the economy becomes less stable, more and more people are turning to these cheaper shops to fulfill their shopping needs. According to The Association of Retail Professionals, the number of resale stores has gone up 7 percent in the last two years alone.
However, many of Eugene’s resellers are longtime participants in the stuff-recycling business. Ann Hathaway has been located just off of the University of Oregon campus since 1992. The Close Horse, a women’s resale clothing shop, is a popular high-end boutique aimed at the fashionable frugal, a characteristic instantly noticeable when a customer strides inside.
The carpet is red velvet, and soft female jazz vocals drift out of the speakers. Hanging from the ceiling is a collection of colorful umbrellas, opened wide despite common superstition. The shelves are decorated with not-for-sale vintage luggage.
Every article of clothing in the store, Hathaway has purchased. All of her inventory walks in the door. Every sleeve on every hanger was brought here, though she claims to turn away at least 80 percent of everything brought in. Is the zipper broken? Is the color faded? Is it over two years old? Hathaway doesn’t want it. But she wants for nothing: The Clothes Horse goes through approximately 12 to 13 thousand pieces a year.
Hathaway has been able to support herself financially off of the shop, and says that she makes more in resale than in her previous job working in mental health.
“These clothes are secondhand, but they’re not funky,” says Hathaway.
“I’m a pretty big clothes snob. People who know me have never seen the same thing twice,” Hathaway says. Her current outfit was all purchased for the store. The lavender scarf around her neck was brought in that morning.
Hathaway isn’t alone in her love of the job. Many secondhand store owners enjoy the freedom their shop gives them. They can purchase anything they want, and it is often brought to them. The shop becomes more than a shop—it becomes a closet.
But resale doesn’t just lie with clothes. Used books are perhaps the most well-known form of secondhand shopping, and many consumers pride themselves on their collection of worn paperbacks.
Even with the failure of bookstore supergiant Borders Books, a struggling Barnes and Noble and the increasingly popular e-book, many used bookstores like Tsunami Books on Willamette Street are managing, somehow, to stay in business.
Katharine Colbert has worked at Tsunami for four years. She works the cash register, and is a partial owner.
“It’s a constant battle,” Colbert says about staying in business. “We’re always teetering on the edge.”
But they must be doing something right—Tsunami has been open for 16 years. Their business is helped by selling used LP records in addition to their wide variety of books, and hosting events. In December alone, Tsunami will see a folk band, two guitarists, a Celtic band and a book signing.
Even entering an eventless Tsunami, it’s no wonder how they draw customers. A large table in the back holds a variety of popular books, like “The Devil Wears Prada” and an assortment of Michael Crichton novels, all for $1. Brand new books are 10 percent off, and the collection of picture books will impress any child bookworm.
Books and clothes are important staples, but one aspect of the resale business is a little less pretty: pawning.
Troy Hatch and his wife Amanda run Northwest Pawn in west Eugene. Five years ago the couple bought the building, which had been a buy-and-sell shop for most of its life. In January 2010, Hatch filled out a pawnbroker’s license application through the Oregon Division of Finance and Corporate Securities, and the buy-and-sell shop turned into a pawning store. Now, instead of buying items outright, Hatch can dispense loans from his shop based on physical collateral. The item is kept in the shop, not for sale, until the owner can come back and repay his loan and accumulated interest. If the loanee returns, the shop makes money from the interest—a little less than 10 percent of the total loan a month. If the loanee doesn’t return, the shop can then sell the collateral item to make a profit, though Hatch estimates that less than 5 percent of his customers default on their loans.
“I shouldn’t say it’s profitable,” Hatch says. “We came to realize that whenever it’s a buy-and-sell shop, you walk in and you’re selling something, you want as much money as you can possibly get, but the next person that’s walking in to buy it, they want it as cheap as they can get it. It makes it that much harder to try and make a profit.”
The store sells a collection of odds and ends, everything from guitars to firearms (for which Hatch got another special license). The store itself is located in a shifty neighborhood and a dirty parking lot, but the store is well-kept and fun to browse, an experience made all the better by the squawking parrot caged at the center of the shop.
Hatch began pawning as a source of income, while, across town, Debbie Barkley was just finishing up her pawning career.
“You could make a lot of money [as a pawn shop], but money isn’t everything in life,” says fellow small business owner Barkley.
Barkley owns the buy-and-sell shop, Your Place, on Franklin Boulevard in Eugene. Her family bought the empty building in August 1991. Your Place spent 17 years as a pawnshop, but in 2008, after the passage of stricter state regulation for pawn stores that put larger caps on the amount of interest brokers could charge on a pawned item, Barkley gave up her pawnbroker status and turned her shop into a secondhand store. Now, instead of loaning money on items, Your Place buys them outright.
“It’s more fun,” Barkley says of the secondhand store. “I feel like I’m playing all day. We’re really happy that we chose to do a secondhand store. The stress is gone.”
Indeed, the atmosphere in Your Place is cheery, matching the several giant smiley faces on the front of the building and the sign. The maze-like store is packed to the brim with hundreds of DVDs, farm tools, dozens of guitars, and other random knickknacks. Barkley says she made more pawning than she does now, but prefers the simplicity resale offers.
“This is a cool business,” she says. “When it’s quiet, I can do the bookkeeping. When it’s noisy, I can stay out here and talk to people. I’m a little bit of a blabber-mouth, but that’s what makes it neat.”
But good conversation is a staple of secondhand shops. Every object has a history, and every clerk a clever anecdote. The customer base is often loyal and thrifty, and in the end what separates new stuff from used stuff is a price and a story.
Looking for secondhand shops in Eugene? Why not try these:
Black Sun Books – 2467 Hilyard St.
J Michaels Books – 160 East Broadway, # A
Smith Family Bookstore – 525 Willamette St. and 768 East 13th Ave.
Tsunami Books – 2585 Willamette St.
Vincent De Paul St Book Store – 100 East 11th Ave.
Windows Booksellers – 199 West 8th Ave., Suite 1
Buffalo Exchange – 131 East 5th Ave.
Clothes Horse – 720 East 13th Ave., # 101
Goodwill – 435 East Broadway, 1015 River Rd., 1010 Green Acres Rd. and 855 Seneca Rd.
St. Vincent De Paul – 555 High St., 201 Division, 1870 West 11th Ave., 705 Seneca Rd. and 2345 West Broadway
Style Connection LLC – 1212 Willamette St.
Gently Used Thrift Shop – 1149 Willamette St.
Hys Thrift Store – 886 West 6th Ave.
River Road 2nd Hand – 939 River Rd.
S.A.R.A.’s Treasures – 871 River Rd.
The Salvation Army – 2065 West 7th Ave.
Your Place – 3796 Franklin Blvd.
American Buyers – 4075 Franklin Blvd
Ace Buyers – 823B Highway 99 North
Ace Trading Co. – 3697 Franklin Blvd.
Northwest Pawn – 2699 Roosevelt Blvd., # B
The Making of a Clothes Horse
At the front counter, Ann Hathaway sits scribbling notes on price tags in colorful sharpies. A child, the granddaughter of Hathaway’s friend and part-time employee Jane Ann Porter, scrapes across the carpet in a pair of vintage, metal roller skates she found on a shelf.
The women’s boutique The Clothes Horse is many things, from a playground to a personal closet, but, more than anything, it’s owner Hathaway’s creative haven.
Hathaway came to Eugene to earn her undergraduate from the University of Oregon in the late 60’s. She majored in psychology, and earned her master’s at the UO in counseling. She left college and pursued a career in mental health.
However, in the mid-80’s, Hathaway left her mental health profession and became an entrepreneur for a children’s store. She ended up purchasing the children’s store.
When she noticed that an old building on 13th Avenue was going to be torn down, she met with the owner to request a spot in the new building. The Clothes Horse was the first business to open in the new complex in 1992.
“As an ex-mental health professional, I wanted to create an environment where women could walk in the door and feel complimented, feel safe, have fun,” Hathaway says.
Hathaway’s mother called her called her a clothes horse growing up because of her love for sewing and clothing. To Hathaway, the name seemed only fitting.
Her career has been a rollercoaster, but now Hathaway likes to sit at The Clothes Horse counter and write notes on price tags. She writes what the clothes say to her when she looks at them with her expert eye.
This long winter overcoat says, “Tall girl goes to the city.”
This blazer “will work for you.”
This skinny t-shirt calls out with “Yea!”
Each article of clothing proves a unique canvas for Hathaway’s creative drive.