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From enviromentalists to price-conscious shoppers, Chicago thrift shops have no typical client.


By Cat Zakrzewski

As businesses across the country closed their doors during the Recession, business for resale stores boomed. Between 2011 and 2012, the Association of Resale Professionals reported a 7% growth in the number of retail locations.

Amanda Dubin, 26, said she’s been in Green Element Resale almost every week since she moved to Rogers Park two years ago. She was thrilled when the store offered her a job, but she said her boyfriend wasn’t.

“The first thing he said was please don’t start bringing home lots of junk,” she said. “But there’s so many interesting things here, not much of it’s junk.”

Dubin is one of many Americans, especially young adults, embracing thrift shopping and second-hand stores. Dubin said the tough economy may be a driving force for shoppers to take to second-hand stores, but also nostalgia for 20th century fashions and culture are a huge driving force for their clientele.

According to reports, millennials are not the only ones. The number of second-hand and vintage stores in the United States increased by 7 percent between 2011 and 2012, according to the Association of Resale Professionals. The evidence of the growth is obvious on Chicago’s North Side, where retail options for thrift shoppers have expanded beyond the Salvation Army. A recent wave of “recycled” clothing stores, like Green Element Resale, are attracting environmentally conscious shoppers, while high-end boutiques reselling vintage prices for high price tags are attracting wealthier shoppers who may have turned their nose to typical thrift stores in the past.

Jeff Nelson owns Broadway Antique Market in Edgewater, a retailer of vintage furniture, clothing and jewelry. The market is not your typical second-hand store. Many of the designer styles carry price tags over $200. However, Nelson said the recent popularity of the 1960’s vintage culture, perpetuated by shows like “Mad Men” has contributed to a rise in his business.

At another nearby Edgewater second-hand store, Broadway Treasure Hunt, the eclectic nature of the clothing and memorabilia is a driving force for customers.

At another nearby Edgewater second-hand store, Broadway Treasure Hunt, the eclectic nature of the clothing and memorabilia is a driving force for customers.

“You just couldn’t find this anywhere else,” said store manager Leilani Wertens.

Dubin said she thinks as more people check out thrift stores, whether forced by the economy or not, they will keep coming back.

“Just because it's second-hand, doesn't mean it's not great,” she said. “A good majority of it isn't junk.”

“Just because it's second-hand, doesn't mean it's not great. A good majority of it isn't junk.”

Customers of All Ages

"Thrift Shop" by Macklemore

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis Feat Wanz - Thrift Shop - Clean from DJ Diztracted on Vimeo.

In 2012, Macklemore emerged on the American rap scene with "Thrift Shop," a social critique of other rappers who use their lyrics to talk about spending lots of money. The song quickly rose in popularity due to its humorous lyrics, topping music charts and taking home two Grammy awards in 2013. The music video was shot in Seattle, the artist's hometown, at various thrift stores. A few second-hand store owners said they thought the song may have helped sales among millenials.

"I wear your grandpa's clothes"

Chicago's Thrift Shops

From that thrift shop down the road

Behind the Scenes

Amanda Dubin, 26, sorts the clothes people have sold or donated to Green Element Resale. The clothes that are not resold are recycled at a textile factory, keeping with the store's environmentally friendly mission.