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A Thrift Shop Looking For A Comeup: Goodwill Goes High-End

Goodwill is experimenting with boutique-style stores, like this one in southern California, to entice younger shoppers to the brand.
Gloria Hillard for NPR
Goodwill is experimenting with boutique-style stores, like this one in southern California, to entice younger shoppers to the brand.

Like many trendy boutiques, there is a definite minimalist flair. Soft sweaters rest on antique tables and the hardwood floors gleam.

But this boutique in Huntington Beach, Calif., is owned by a name more well known for treasure hunting than couture shopping: Goodwill.

"Look at some of these great dresses here. We have Development, which is a great brand, we have Lee — these are ones kind of more known in the fashion industry than on the street," says Eric Smissen, the store's visual specialist.

He glides past neatly folded skinny jeans and designer handbags to a small rack of dresses, mostly black.

"Word is getting out, so I think that our more traditional shopper is still here, but we're seeing a lot more new faces," Smissen says.

He says that's the idea behind the Goodwill boutiques — to bring in new customers, especially younger shoppers who have fueled the popularity of resale stores like Crossroads Trading Company.

"We have Joe's Jeans. We have Paige denim. All those jeans run upwards to $150 plus for a pair. And they're about $8 to $14.99," Smissen says.

Return patron Francesca Saint Cyr's hopping cart is full. She says the Goodwill Boutique here in Orange County is a great alternative to chain stores and mall shopping.

"What would you guess this Calvin Klein to be? I haven't even looked at the price yet, but I know I'm going to be excited. Now I'm going to check out that Gucci bag over there," she says.

The merchandise that ends up in the boutique stores is curated by those who have a discerning eye for popular and designer labels.

"Well, we have this beautiful Coach bag, this navy blue Coach bag with some brass accents. And then, let's see, some clothing here, we have this really great Michael Kors trench," Smissen says, rummaging through a large cardboard box of recently donated items.

Also shopping this afternoon is Sandy Slate. She's been a longtime traditional store customer.

"I love it. Looks great. The main thing: it's clean. It's clean and orderly," Slate says.

Goodwill Industries has more than 3,000 stores across the country, but only 60 fall into the boutique category.

Frank Talarico, president and CEO of Goodwill Orange County, says the new stores have been very successful. And he says even though the ambiance is more Abercrombie than thrift store, shoppers and donors should know the original mission is still intact.

"They can always rest assured, that our Goodwill, for example — and this is a real and audited number — is going to take more than 92 cents of every dollar that we raise, regardless of what kind of store we raise it in, and put it right back into programs that serve people with barriers to employment," Talarico says.

The traditional store — where household goods and framed prints share floor space with clothing — still represents 90 percent of Goodwill's retail business. The non-profit takes in more than $5 billion in annual revenue.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.