For thrift stores, the adage that one person's trash is another's treasure has become more business axiom than clichè in the wake of the recession.
Prolonged economic woes have been a boon for sales as bargain shoppers look for treasures at rock-bottom prices less as a hobby and more out of necessity. But the same woes that send shoppers through the doors are also causing donors to hand over fewer castoffs.
The less trash, the less treasure. The less treasure, the less money to support their nonprofit missions or charitable causes.
Some area stores say they're running significantly low on inventory.
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Piles of donations have evaporated at The Bargain Box Thrift Shop on Hilton Head Island, according to board president Sheila Shkor.
" 'Mount Charity' has been flattened," Shkor said. "It normally goes up to near the ceiling, and we saw the floor. So we became concerned. We need to build the mountain again."
The store sent an email Monday pleading for donations to help it sustain its charitable support to more than 30 local nonprofits.
"We are seeing the amount of money we generate through sales of donated goods decrease, just at a time when needs in our community are at their highest," Shkor said. "Our inventory of used and donated merchandise is down and in need of replenishment."
People are holding onto their stuff longer, postponing remodeling or renovation projects that led them to donate replaced appliances, furniture and other household goods, said Bargain Box office manager Dean Roberts.
"The economy impacts thrift shops just like every other retail operation across the country, both on the donation and customer end," Roberts said.
The thrift store has donated more than $11.5 million to area charities since 1965. It gave $370,000 last year to more than 30 nonprofits that provide education, food, shelter and medical services to the working poor, elderly and abused.
At Cancer Thrift of the Lowcountry in Bluffton, donations are down about 50 percent compared to last year, said manager Tammy Neal.
"Instead of donating, they're putting it in a yard sale to get the cash," Neal said. "This economy is hurting everyone. Our shopping is up, but our donations are down."
Because of that, the store has given less every month to the American Cancer Society.
"Last year, we gave them about double what we have so far this year," Neal said. "We cut advertising and every bill we can. You know the economy is down when the thrift shop is hurting."