Sonja Carr used to scour garage sales to find one-of-a-kind clothes or home items "when it wasn't cool to thrift."
Now she helps others find thrifting treasures as the store manager of Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners' Resale Select store in Plymouth.
Thrift stores and other secondhand shops have experienced a revival over the last few years as consumers try to save money.
"It helps with individual budgets, family budgets," Carr, 60, of Plymouth, said. "I have seen where over the last 13 years where people have come in and bought just because they are giving back to the community. ... And now they come in and say, 'This is my place that is part of my monthly shopping, my biweekly shopping just like how I would go to the grocery store.'"
Last year, the thrift store category grew more year-over-year than the traditional apparel and off-price retail categories, according to foot traffic firm Placer.ai. Stores like Savers, Value Village, Goodwill, Salvation Army and Plato's Closet have been seeing monthly growth in foot traffic as much as 45% compared to 2022. According to a 2023 report from online consignment and thrift store ThredUp, the U.S. secondhand market is expected to grow from $39 billion in 2022 to reach $70 billion by 2027.
For a lot of thrifters, the hunt is half the fun with the added bonus of supporting either a nonprofit cause or at least keeping something out of a landfill.
"I think thrifting can be very satisfying both for your wallet and for your soul," said Cheryl Classen, manager of Flying Pig Thrift in St. Paul.
Search often, be patient
The more you visit thrift stores, the better chance you have to find something you like. Lindsey Cason, who owns south Minneapolis vintage store Carousel + Folk with her husband, Mike, scouts thrift shops to build her curated stock of furniture, home decor and art.
Sometimes you don't find anything on an initial search of a thrift store, she said. "Thrift stores can always be hit and miss," Cason said.
But you never know when a store might be getting a new haul so she suggests checking a couple of times a week to score rare finds.
Do your research
There is a difference between a thrift store and other secondhand shops that might be more curated by owners. And there are benefits for shopping each type.
Thrift stores usually are cheaper, less organized and will likely take more time to comb through. Do your research and figure out which stores offer different benefits like return policies such as Goodwill, loyalty programs like Resale Select or perhaps online inventory of items that make it easy to search for finds, Carr said.
Some stores also have fitting rooms so you can try on clothes before you buy. Others like Resale have corporate partners that donate their unused stock. A few places, such as Plato's Closet and some Goodwills, provide people who donate goods with coupons or money off their purchases.
Talk to managers about when stock is coming in and what's usually offered during different parts of the year. Resale Select already has out its vintage Christmas decorations for those who want to get a head start on the season.
"Every thrift store is set up differently," Carr said.
At curated stores like Carousel + Folk, you pay a little bit more for owners like Cason to have done the legwork for you. The items are styled and displayed so you can see how they would look in a home. These stores also usually have different specialties. For example, if you are looking for a certain type of item like vintage men's brim hats, visit a specialty vintage shop like the Bearded Mermaid Bazaar in Northfield instead of a run-of-the-mill thrift store.
While going to a store that is close to where you live makes sense, try to mix it up by going to stores in other locations, Cason said. For example, in an area that has a bunch of midcentury homes you might find a larger range of donated products from the 1960s.
Prepare to be surprised
For the thrifter who likes to be more prepared, identify what you are looking for and call different stores, Classen said. As you shop, compare prices for similar items by other resellers on sites like eBay and Poshmark. Some stores allow you to haggle prices, others do not, Classen said.
"And then there's the serendipity approach," she said. "Walk into a store and be surprised."
Keep your eye out for heritage brands and items made from better materials like cashmere and wool, she said.
Find materials to make your own
Thrift stores and other secondhand stores are great resources for materials to craft your own special items, said Amy Buchanan, owner of the Center for Lost Objects in St. Paul. At her vintage and antiques store, Buchanan sells her own creations and the work of other artists from jewelry to home furnishings.
She said a lot of her work is upcycled from what she has found at thrift stores and has been given a new life, such using old jewelry to make sculptures.
Others can do the same and raid thrift and vintage stores for materials like buttons, knobs and fabrics to make items. Some stores even offer classes on how to turn thrifted items into treasures.
Don't be afraid to also thrift-shop your own home or those of your family and friends. Buchanan took her father's old Army outfits and turned them into bags for her family.
Cason suggested shopping with a generalized wish list for the holidays instead of a specific gift in mind.
Some ideas that can make great gifts include coffee table books, accessories, vases or planters, art, and children's books, Cason said. Thrift stores are also a great place to grab white elephant gifts for those with a sense of humor "because you find the weirdest stuff," she said.