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Treasure Hunt

POLK COUNTY -- After just a few minutes of browsing inside Downtown Trends and Treasures, Alissa Mandel plucks a blouse and a green dress from the racks.

POLK COUNTY -- After just a few minutes of browsing inside Downtown Trends and Treasures, Alissa Mandel plucks a blouse and a green dress from the racks.

The latter, a light green number, was a good price, remarked Mandel, who lives in Sheridan.

"I used to work at a Lane Bryant and this would probably be $34 to $39," she said. "I'm getting it for $20."

Mandel learned about the store off Highway 99W in Monmouth a few weeks ago and has been a regular consignor and shopper here since. Actually, she's a regular at second-hand outlets -- period.

On Sundays, she'll hit a Goodwill Store in McMinnville, meet her sister at a Value Village in Salem then drive back through Polk County to Downtown Trends on her way home, she said.

"It's our second-hand circuit," said Mandel, who said such stores help her save on the wardrobe she needs for working in real estate. "You can find brand new stuff with tags still on them ... at a fourth of the price."

Resale, thrift and consignment shops may be traditionally viewed as the bastion of the savvy hobby shopper or families trying to save a dollar.

But the recession is changing buying habits. And the second-hand industry, both locally and nationally, seems to be chugging along at a time when many retailers are struggling to stay in the black.

"People who have less to spend are reinvesting in the way they look at money," said Dale Emanuel, a regional spokeswoman for Goodwill Industries in Oregon. "The recession is sending new people into the stores ... besides just during Halloween."

The resale industry has experienced strong growth in the past five years, according to the Association for Resale Professionals (NARTS), a trade organization.

A 2010 NARTS report on its collective members showed a net sales increase of 12.7 percent in 2009 from the previous year; the U.S. Department of Commerce reported a 7.3 percent drop in retail sales during that same period.

Kathy Disney, who manages Goodwill's Dallas store and donation center, said sales at her site rose by 5.9 percent in 2009 and 6.8 percent last year.

Donations have jumped dramatically, by almost 20 percent in 2009

. The Dallas store has also added four or five part-time employees in the last two years -- "that's significant for our staff," Disney said.

Jenny Brown said when she opened her Second Time Around consignment store in downtown Independence in late March, she had figured it would be scraping by for at least half a year.

"There was a profit in the first month," Brown said. "Not a big one, but we've done better than I expected ... people are trying to stretch their money."

There are other forces at play here. The recycling philosophy that permeates the state helps drive people into second-hand stores.

"Back East, they whisper about thrift shopping," Emanuel said.

Disney noted that some people have come to depend on thrift and consignment stores in Polk County, as there are little in the way of department stores.

"I come in here once every two weeks," said Jamie Brainard of Dallas during a recent Goodwill visit. "Pretty much everything I buy is never brand new."

People are trying to do more than just save money. Disney said people will hit thrift shops to find "treasures" to resell online. Consignment stores, meanwhile, give individuals a way to recover the cost of what they paid for clothing and other goods.

Downtown Trends, a Partnerships in Community Living Inc. business, has nearly 1,300 consignors currently. That's a dramatic jump from two years ago, said Melissa Shelton, a store jobs coach.

"We're booked out for appointments to consign items until September," Shelton said. "I remember when I started here, we used to have to call people if we were looking for a certain number of items."

Some store owners are seeing trends with the quality of goods coming into the stores that may tie into the economy.

Emanuel said Goodwill sites have seen more heavily-used donations because people are holding onto their belongings longer -- requiring more culling of damaged things for an overseas aftermarket.

Shelton said she's noticed clothes with tags on them or that look brand new.

"You buy something, it doesn't fit and or you don't like it, and it hangs in your closet for awhile," Alissa Mandel said. "You just try to swap it out for something else."

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