The economy of plenty
by Bread Of Life on 23 Feb 2013 permalink
Op shops, thrift stores and charity outlets perform an amazing recycling feat: the well-offs pass on their plenty to those in lack.
Contrast this with second hand resellers such as pawn shops. They can be an outlet to pass stolen goods and may encourage gambling habits by providing usury loans.
The business model of the op shop is hard to beat: supplies are donated, workers are volunteers and customers cannot claim a refund.
But even with 100% profit on goods sold there are still overheads: rent, electricity, insurance, providing meals for the staff and driving a truck for pickups and deliveries of furniture items.
There is also a cultural element to the equation. People feel good about donating pre-loved goods because they are aware of their intrinsic value. They also know someone will benefit from it who would otherwise not be able to afford it. Some folks also prefer to buy quality second-hand garments rather than buying brand new items produced by slave or child labour in third world countries.
Or is there a more sinister side to it? As long as poverty is kept out of sight the bourgeoisie is not offended. The Op shop is the channel to bless the poor anonymously without being challenged to stare into the eyes of a desperate person.
There is also the funny side to it. Not every customer is a welfare recipient. We have also the regulars, the connoisseurs who do their circuit in search of valuable antiques.
Volunteers have to be trained to distinguish between glass and crystal, precious china and common tableware, stainless steel and silver.
Because of various public liability and health issues we do not sell helmets, car child restraints, cots or baby chairs, mattresses or stuffed toys. But we have piles of vinyl records, audio cassettes and videotapes. If you want to see a snapshot of consumerism 20 years ago - come and browse with us! We have the latest fashion from 10 years ago. Some garments have never been worn. They are still intact with their original labels and spare buttons. Somebody didn't like a Christmas or birthday gift and didn't want to return it for fear of offending the giver.
Trash and treasure is an apt phrase in this trade. Half of items donated end up in the dumpster. People use the charities to discard broken furniture and damaged electrical appliances. But we are masters at recycling. We turn unsuitable clothing into rags. We turn old and mouldy books into pulp. We pile up bit and pieces for scrap metal. Finally we provide a safe environment for those who have been spared a jail sentence and have to perform community service instead.
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