Noe Valley Voice March 2009

Secondhand News: Consignment Stores Alive and Well

By Lorraine Sanders

Like many others who have gone before him, Jacob Goldstein moved to San Francisco for love. Little did he know that his world would soon turn to junk.

"I moved up here for this girl, and she needed a coffee table," Goldstein says as he begins to explain the story behind the Garage Sale Store, the Sanchez Street consignment shop he opened in January after relocating to Noe Valley from San Diego last fall.

The search for that coffee table led the entrepreneur--who also happens to be a stand-up comedian who runs open-mike nights at Bliss Bar each Monday--to make the rounds of the local thrift stores. There, amidst the quilts, chairs, and lamps, he was reminded of a piece of ancient wisdom: "You can take people's old things and give them new life."

At the same time, Goldstein was looking for a way to rid himself of belongings he no longer needed after moving in with his girlfriend. He suspected--and rightly so--that other people might have similar needs.

"I realized a lot of people have the same issue where furniture becomes a hassle when they are moving," says Goldstein.

He rented the cubbyhole store space on the side of the Belgano Chocolatier building at the corner of Sanchez and 24th streets, and filled it with his own surplus, as well as items from his parents' home-staging business. Then he started trolling Craigslist for garage and yard sale listings and e-mailing the contacts with a business proposition.

"I e-mailed them and said, 'What's the point of having your own garage sale when you can drop off the stuff with me?'" he recalls.

In less than a month, his tiny store seemed to offer the perfect answer to the dismal economy. Not only were customers stopping by, looking for bargains. They were coming in to recycle or sell their possessions, in an effort to recoup some of their value.

"I call it the never-ending garage sale. There are always different things coming in here, and things coming and going."

Consigners Get Half

The Garage Sale Store accepts a variety of household items, furniture, and electronic equipment--pretty much anything other than clothing, Goldstein says.

He allows patrons to leave up to 10 of their own items for sale at the shop. He'll also pick up items from consigners' homes for $10 to $20, thanks to a special deal he gets from Zipcar. At the end of each month, Goldstein tallies up his store's sales and sends consigners a check for 50 percent of each item's selling price. Goldstein determines the prices, which range from $1 for odds and ends from his $1 bucket, to $200 for an 8-by-10 rug.

While it's hardly a get-rich-quick scheme, the business has steadily attracted patrons, Goldstein says. He recently hired an employee to man the shop when he's not there. The store is now open between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., seven days per week.

"I have a lot of repeat customers, and over 30 people have brought me their stuff thus far," says Goldstein.

He recommends that people call him (858-997-5285) before bringing their items for consignment, to make sure he has enough space to house them.

Peekabootique by Appointment

Goldstein's isn't the only neighborhood business experiencing an influx of customers seeking to buy or sell secondhand merchandise.

"It's definitely been picking up, and more people that haven't before looked at the used [clothing] are now looking at it," says Peekabootique store manager Antoinette Guilfoyle.

The Castro Street children's shop carries both new and used clothing, for newborns through age 6. Those with clothes to unload can set up appointments during special buying hours. The store selects the items it wants and offers either 40 percent of the sale price in cash or 50 percent in store credit.

"We have a lot more requests for selling," says the store's co-owner Michelle Furlong, who estimates that the wait for an appointment is about three weeks.

To find success as a seller, it pays to bring clothes that are in season and bearing popular labels, such as Gymboree, GAP, and Ralph Lauren.

Spring Sweaters Fine

Following the same strategy will help consigners' chances a few doors down from Peekabootique at Mary's Exchange, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in the neighborhood this year.

"Basically what we look for is anything in season and in very good shape," says owner Wendy.

The store prefers current styles no more than a few seasons old, but also accepts cashmere sweaters and the occasional vintage item.

Along with contemporary women's clothing, the store offers handbags, shoes, and accessories.

"I have a really interesting collection of vintage, sterling, and old costume jewelry, and a lot of new jewelry," she says.

Those interested in consignment hours and details may contact the store directly for more information.

Cece's Crowded Collection

At the opposite end of the neighborhood, Cece's Closet brings neighborhood shoppers another option for buying and selling secondhand women's apparel and accessories from recent seasons. Well known for its collection of shoes, the Church Street store specializes in apparel from mainstream brands like Liz Claiborne and Banana Republic.

"Last month [January] was quiet for us. This month has started to pick up," says owner Cecelia Salas, who celebrated the store's 10th year in the neighborhood in 2008.

Salas says more people have been inquiring about consigning items in her shop, so she's not lacking in merchandise to sell, though she is starting to look for spring merchandise. Instead of sellers, it's an increase in buyers she hopes to see in the coming weeks.

"Now we need to have customers, because we have the store full," she says.

Trade-Ins No Mystery

Another neighborhood retailer experiencing an upswing in secondhand merchandise is the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore, on 24th Street near Diamond.

"I've never seen so many people bring books in for trade. It's a constant stream," reports owner Diane Kudisch, who accepts used volumes in return for store credit.

Customers favor her shop's secondhand books over new ones to such a degree that she's become increasingly selective about stocking new material.

"There are about five or six [authors] that I can count on these days that even with the rotten economy people will pay for even in hardcovers," says Kudisch, who counts neighborhood resident Cara Black among her store's bestselling new authors.

For those planning to bring books into the store, the best bets for trade-in success are paperback historical and crime novels. "We're always looking for good British stuff, international stuff, things you can't get in other bookstores. That's what we try to carry: things you can't get at Borders or Barnes & Noble," Kudisch says.

Outlets for Artists

The Church Street store and consignment gallery When Modern Was also prides itself on offering the sort of items shoppers can't find at mainstream big-box retailers.

"When people think consignment, people think used. But it's also for artists to have an outlet. Because artists are unheard of, they need to get their work out there," explains store co-owner Dona Taylor, who also co-owns Gallery of Jewels on 24th Street.

When Modern Was accepts furniture and home accessories on a consignment basis from a mixture of professional dealers, artists, and just regular folks looking to divest themselves of vintage or antique items. At Gallery of Jewels, Taylor says there's a waiting list populated with jewelry designers wanting to sell their work.

From shoppers seeking bargains and unique items they can't find at chain stores, to artists producing new work with secondhand materials, to the business owners manning the shops, secondhand seems to hold equal allure for those standing on both sides of the proverbial cash register.

Says Taylor: "It's a win-win during hard times."