Pent-up demand both for shopping and donating items is making for busy times at thrift stores, which are open again as of June 11 as the province slowly emerges from lockdown.
A victim of the many stops and starts during the pandemic, thrift shops were deemed non-essential under the most recent lockdown. Now, they can operate at 15 per cent of their usual capacity.
The reopening was welcomed by Kelly Christie, executive director of Woolwich Community Services, which operates a thrift store at its Memorial Avenue location in Elmira.
She notes that throughout the pandemic and the subsequent multiple lockdowns in Ontario, many people who rely on thrift shops were left in the dark, unable to use online services such as Amazon or curbside at larger retail locations.
“We have had concerns because a lot of the people that we support through some of our programs here, as well, are low-income earning households. So they may not have the ability to order online because they wouldn’t have the financial ability to buy new. Or they wouldn’t also have the credit cards, and some necessarily wouldn’t have the skill set for online ordering of items and the curbside pickups, or what have you.”
That being the case, many of the WCS thrift shop users were calling on the agency to reopen through the lockdown period.
“We have had many, many requests to come in and shop for clothing – you know, the kids have outgrown their shoes or with a big hole in rain boots, and it goes on and on and on. And now with this strong heat wave, kids have outgrown their clothes [from last year], so we have many eager people wanting to come and it has been problematic,” said Christie. “I don’t know if people have realized the impact on low-income earning households when you couldn’t get anything but essential foods from stores.”
In terms of donations, the store was not granted permission to collect donations over the past couple of months.
“We haven’t been able to accept them [donations] during the pandemic. It wasn’t essential for people to come out and make those donations, so in respect for that, we were not accepting donations.”
With the reopening of the economy, donations are now being accepted at thrift stores.
“We anticipate we’ll get an abundance of a wonderful, gently used items donated to the thrift shop because people have been holding on to them right now in a little corner in their garage or their house where they’ve been putting their donated items,” said Christie.
The Mennonite Central Committee, which also operates a thrift store in Elmira, is already seeing that surge in donations. Luckily, notes MCC Ontario executive director John Head, the ability to take in donations does not have an impact on the 15 per cent capacity for shoppers in the stores.
“We’ve arranged it so retail is separated from the donation area.”
Head noted the MCC stores have seen a “strong inflow of donations” and a demand for shoppers to return to the stores. Staff are busy keeping things running smoothly given the restrictions still in place.
“We have to monitor it because of expected pent-up demand,” he said.
While capacity is limited, the return of a revenue stream comes as something of a relief to the organization, which typically counts on thrift store sales for 25 per cent of its budget. The reopening also allows for volunteers to become involved again, albeit with limitations due to public health protocols.
“We’re being very cautious in terms of distancing,” said Head.
Retail hours also remain limited on a store-by-store basis – people are asked to check online for individual location hours – as the reopening is phased in.
The same is true at WCS, which is currently accepting donations only on Mondays and Fridays. On the shopping side, the in-store capacity count will be 15 per cent or seven people, with time limits of 30 minutes in place if a line begins to build up outside of the building, said Christie.