The ScholarShop has been around long enough to witness the renaissance of shopping resale. What once happened quietly because someone's budget couldn't afford a trip to a department store is now a choice that people brag about at cocktail parties.
"I can now go to a social event or party and people will proudly say, 'I got this at Scholarshop,'" said Faith Sandler, the nonprofit's first and only executive director. She said that when she was hired 21 years ago, people "were still buying here, but they just weren't admitting it."
The two ScholarShop resale shops in Clayton and Webster Groves help support The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis, a nonprofit celebrating 50 years this month. The ScholarShop generates $2.7 million in revenue, which is transformed into interest-free higher education loans and grants for needy students.
Sandler said that they expected donations to diminish because of the economy, but donations have increased steadily. It's a trend among resale shops nationwide, according to the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops. Growth in the number of resale shops continues to rise, shoppers are multiplying and merchandise (meaning donations) continues to accumulate.
Sandler said that the reasons for this are multifaceted.
The No. 1 reason is that resale shopping has become sexy, for lack of a better word. Not only is it environmentally friendly, but there's also usually a charity involved. And because fashion is really all about recycling ideas with a modern twist, what better way to be fashionable than to recycle fashion and do it well.
ZIP code studies at the ScholarShop have shown that one of the store's biggest constituent shoppers hail from the 63124 area of Ladue, which has median home prices of more than $1 million, according to Forbes magazine.
"People don't just shop here because they need to," Sandler said. "People love the thrill of the hunt and finding that unique treasure."
Another theory is that wealthy people love a bargain, too. It's not every thrift or resale store that can boast an enviable selection of cocktail attire or a sportswear section of tennis and golf wear during the warmer months and ski items in winter.
The ScholarShop remains a popular donation spot for many of the city's shopping elite, because it caters to those in a higher tax bracket. Donors don't just receive a thank you note, they get an annual itemized statement that lists every single item that was in sellable condition, including the size, the designer label and the price it was tagged in the store. It's a pretty handy tool during tax time, and let's face it, who among us is really going to itemize a bag of clothes before donating it?
By the way, donations are screened thoroughly. Not everything that's clean and repair-free makes it onto the sales floor.
"Things that are out of date, but not vintage yet, we don't sell or keep," Sandler said. "We try to educate our donors on what we sell to reduce bad stuff, because it costs us money to process those things."
The store does work with other entities to handle the donations they can't use, but none of them is profitable. The shop gets donations from about 8,000 households and businesses each year and an average of 150 to 200 donate in excess of $3,000 in sellable merchandise a year.
It's the donors that fuel the shoppers and the shoppers that in turn stimulate more donors, Sandler said. Or maybe that's vice versa. Whatever came first, October is anniversary month at the Scholarshop and there will be daily specials, deals and sales, including the weeklong buy-one-get-one-at-50-percent-off Columbus Day sale beginning Monday.
ScholarShop is one of many local, charitable resale shops worth a visit. You may end up with something to brag about at your next party.