What is a Thrift Store

What Is a Thrift Store

Thrift shops can be a sort of novelty to many people, and some equate the items found there to be lower quality than what you would find in a department store. However, the truth is quite the opposite. So, what is a thrift store? Here is what you need to know. 

What Is The Purpose of a Thrift Store 

Image of a rake in a thrifty store for what is a thrift store post

The purpose of many thrift stores is to raise money for non-profits or charities across the country. The two largest and most well-known thrift stores, Goodwill and the Salvation Army, are good examples of this. Goodwill states that the proceeds gained through their thrift shops go towards "job training and placement programs for people with liabilities". 

Others may support local programs, community groups, or even churches. 

When people donate their gently used clothing or household goods, they are put out for sale with a percentage of the profits going towards the charitable cause. Because they are not run by a large for-profit corporation, they often offer a no-frills shopping experience. This can put off some shoppers who are used to neatly stocked shelves and multiples of every item. However, there are a lot of things that you can find in a thrift store that you wouldn't be able to find anywhere else. 

The History of Thrift Stores

August 17th is National Thrift Store Day, which helps to highlight what a unique staple these stores have become. While this may make you think that they have been around for a long time, they are actually a relatively new invention. 

In prior history, clothing was precious, and old worn-out clothing was repurposed or mended to make sure that it could last as long as possible. However, in the late 19th century, the industrial revolution changed how clothing was regarded. With garments now being mass-produced, people could afford to be a bit more frivolous. 

It soon became more affordable and more feasible to buy new clothes and people began to think of clothing as disposable. This led to more people throwing out old clothing instead of making it last as long as possible. Because of this, new waste management systems and pawnshops began opening in order to make use of the clothing people no longer wanted. 

However, wearing second-hand clothing at this time came with a stigma, as it was thought that the people who shopped at thrift stores were lower-class or less well off. Despite this, the business was booming and when religious groups like the Salvation Army got involved, they quickly became a sample in the thrift store market. 

By the 1920s, thrift stores had become something similar to department stores, offering clothing and household goods at discounted rates. The word thrift also became widely used at this time, in an attempt to draw in middle-class customers under the claim that by buying these goods they could help give back to the community. 

Today, 100 years later, the thrift store industry is worth $14.4 billion, and it has become a go-to shopping spot for many millennials. While it may have come from a rough beginning, there is no denying that thrift stores have made a lasting mark that even some retail corporations can't match. 

How Does a Thrift Store Work 

Thrift stores have kept the same business model since their inception. People donate their gently used clothing, household items, artwork, books, and electronics, which are then sold by the thrift store to consumers. 

Thrift stores rely on these donations and without them, they couldn't function. In some instances, thrift stores will use incentives to help entice people to donate, such as offering them a percentage off purchases if they donate. Others may offer discount days throughout the week or use punch cards to help bring in shoppers with the promise of a percentage off after a certain number of purchases. 

When it comes to staffing, some members may be volunteers from the charity that runs the shop, or they may be hired by the organization and paid from the proceeds that the store brings in. Larger chain thrift stores that operate across the country often have larger staffing requirements. 

Are Thrift Stores Worth It 

image of a piggy bank to show you save money from shopping in thrift stores

Many people wonder if shopping at a thrift store is worth it. It cannot be overstated enough that they are absolutely worth it. Not only do you have a chance to find unique and one-of-kind items at these stores, but because they're constantly getting new donations, you'll always have something new to find every time you come in. 

Some people even go to thrift stores for the purpose of buying clothing to alter themselves. Because you can find so many different clothing types and styles, artistic individuals will have no shortage of material to work with to live out their fashion designer dreams. 

Similarly, you can often find a lot of home goods, such as pots, pans, plates, cups, dressers, desks, entertainment centers, blankets, couches, chairs, and more. Really, anything you can think of using in your home, you have a chance of finding at a thrift store. 

Some even have electronics that have been donated, some of which could bring back childhood memories. You'll be surprised at how many VHS players your local thrift store has in stock, and sometimes you just want to put in a tape for nostalgia. 

Are Thrift Stores Expensive 

Thrift stores are well known for offering affordable deals on almost anything you can want. This makes them perfect for people looking to watch their budgets or those just looking to grab great deals. 

In some cases, you can even find vintage items for a steal that could otherwise go for quite a bit of money. 

Although some people don't like the idea of wearing pre-owned clothing or household items, everything that is put out has been pre-checked to ensure it is in good condition. Sometimes you can even find clothes with the original tags still attached. 

This makes what you're getting a true deal, and it is something that everyone should check out at least once. 

How Thrift Stores Help The Environment

Another benefit of thrift stores is that they can benefit the environment by reducing the amount of textile waste that makes its way into landfills. Due to the mass production of clothing, finding clothing in landfills has become an unfortunate truth. It's even been estimated that the average American throws away 81 pounds of clothing every year, which adds up to over 26 billion pounds of waste entering landfills annually. 

Along with this, because a lot of clothing contains polyester fibers -- which don't break down in the ocean -- they can pollute the water and hurt both the environment and the animals that live in it. 

By donating the clothing you no longer want, you can help keep this waste out of landfills and oceans. And, by buying from thrift stores, you can help support this system of recycling and break the cycle of pollution that is created by fast fashion. 

Why Do I Love Thrift Shopping

image of jeans at a thrift store for the what is a thrift store post

There are a lot of things to love about thrift shopping. From the unique finds, the unbeatable prices, and the ability to shop in an eco-friendly way, there is something for everyone to feel good about. 

Personally, nothing beats the feeling of finding that one item that you just have to have, that you know you would never have found anywhere else. Going to the thrift store is kind of like treasure hunting in this way. On every trip, you never know what incredible things you'll find. 


So, what is a thrift store? Thrift stores can be something different for everyone. For someone on a budget, they can be a lifeline that allows them to access affordable goods that they otherwise may have gone without, while for eco-conscious consumers, they can be a way to help reduce their impact on the environment. Different still, for some, the thrift store is a thrilling place where they can find deals on unique items that aren't available anywhere else. 

If you haven't been to a thrift store before, I encourage you to give it a try. You never know, it may become your new favorite place to shop.