Old clothes, new stores: Thrift stores are popping up all over Michigan

Janna Maris remembers spending her childhood looking for clothes, toys and trinkets at the thrift store. Her grandmother would hand Maris and each of her cousins ​​a $5 bill, and whoever came back with the most clothes won.

“I’ve been thrifty all my life,” she said.

Now 26, Maris turned savings into a business when she opened Zabház, a second-hand clothing and home goods store, in downtown Grand Rapids two months ago. And she’s not the only one.

Thrift stores have been popping up all over Michigan as resale shopping becomes more popular.

For Cherina Johnson, it’s a passion for saving.

As the owner of Upstairs Resale Shop in Saginaw, she loves the thrill of finding treasures, one-of-a-kind goods and even luxury clothing sold at a fraction of the price. Johnson, 52, bought the four-decade-old business from its original owner four years ago and now runs pop-up sales at markets across the region.

“The second-hand market isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but I think there’s been more momentum than the big box stores,” she said.

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The $160 billion resale market grew 15% last year – the highest growth rate in industry history – according to an annual “recommerce” report from OfferUp, a marketplace used online. At this rate, the market, which includes all resale items like auto parts, electronics and apparel, is expected to grow five times faster than overall retail, reaching $289 billion by 2027.

Maris caught this wave.

Last fall, she started stockpiling items and held her first pop-up sale at a local cafe. Maris sold half of its inventory in another pop-up six months later, then opened the store in August.

“I thought I was still going to do pop-ups in my little 700 square foot apartment and haul stuff to cafes. Because of its popularity, it allowed me to start my own business,” he said. she declared.

At Zabház, a cat named Jin roams the store and often lays down under a brass shelf to enjoy the sun streaming through the window. The store is located on a busy street in downtown Grand Rapids, where three other resale stores opened in the past year.

Just two blocks north, 43-year-old Tom Short opened Decaydence after watching Division Avenue transform into a mini mecca for thrift stores. Five vendors sell in the shop where vintage concert posters of Queen, The Beatles and Madonna are plastered on a wall and shelves of colorful 90s toys lure customers.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to own my own boutique, and I finally got to do it,” Short said.


With 272 million Americans now buying or selling used goods, OfferUp attributes the surge in resale to pandemic-related supply chain shortages and changing consumer trends, such as the sustainable purchase.

“We’re in the middle of this thing happening,” Maris said. “We didn’t even try to be. We don’t even follow a trend; it’s just that we do what we love to do.

But these stores are opening at the right time.

Savings have taken off in recent years as the fashion industry takes notice of its environmental impact. Fast fashion brands like Shein, H&M and Zara have borne the brunt of this backlash, as demonstrated by a TikTok user making clothes from all the plastic packaging Shein sends out to shoppers.

The fashion industry is estimated to be responsible for 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions – the same amount as France, Germany and the UK combined – according to a report by analytics firm McKinsey. Additionally, approximately 85% of discarded clothing and textiles in the United States end up in landfills.

Sustainability is what inspired 30-year-old Anika Johnson to leave the world of corporate fashion for occasion.

After working at Banana Republic, Zara and the Nordstrom style company Trunk Club, Johnson has seen firsthand the amount of waste produced. So, she launched an online resale business four years ago and opened two Kalamazoo retail stores – Great Lakes Thrift and Kalamazoo Fashion House – in 2020.

“We noticed a lot of young shoppers, like high school and even college kids, because they saw on TikTok vintage shopping or second-hand shopping and the importance of living a sustainable life,” she said.

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For Gen Z and Millennials, 62% say they look for a used item before buying it new, according to a report from online marketplace ThredUp. And four times as many consumers said they buy second-hand fashion rather than new “sustainable” fashion.

Big brands like Levi’s, Nike, Lululemon and Madewell have jumped on this consumer trend by launching their own resale platforms.

“It’s like an endless market,” Maris said. “People love to shop, but they also love to shop sustainably. And that’s where we’re headed. »

Despite the gains, Anika Johnson believes there is still a short way to go.

Second-hand clothing was a $35 billion industry last year, compared to $91 billion for fast fashion. According to ThredUp, half of fast fashion shoppers believe it harms the environment, but nearly three-quarters continue to buy it because it’s cheap and convenient.

“If you think about traditional America, there are still so many buyers out there who could potentially be vintage and used buyers. They either haven’t been exposed to it or they haven’t necessarily been informed of the why they should be second-hand and vintage buyers,” said Anika Johnson.

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Beyond durability, Michigan thrift store owners say customers are often looking for unique items that have stood the test of time. For Short, he hopes Decaydence will spark nostalgia from customers who often exclaim things like “my grandma had this!”

“I like to see people connecting to something rather than buying something just because they think it’s cool,” he said.

These stores are also reviving retail in downtown Michigan.

In Grand Rapids, the four new stores held a “clothing crawl” last month that brought foot traffic to a seven-block stretch of Division Avenue. Both of Anika Johnson’s stores are located on the Kalamazoo Mall, the first pedestrian mall in the United States. Nearly a dozen antique shops are crammed into downtown Ypsilanti. And vintage businesses are also moving into smaller communities like Middleville.

“Tapping into a largely untapped market has really allowed us to thrive,” said Anika Johnson. “It’s kind of what’s happening across the state. It seems vintage stores are popping up in communities that either never had a vintage clothing store, or haven’t had one in a while.

Many of these new stores offer curated inventory, often hand-picked from thrift store bins, estate sales or vintage wholesalers. But Johnson encourages everyone to try second-hand shopping, checking out everything from nonprofit thrift stores to local consignment stores.

“Just try it,” she said. “Go to an estate sale, go to your local Goodwill and see what you find.”

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