Finding inexpensive, gently used brand-name clothing, designer bags and other rarities combines both the thrill of the hunt and the joy of victory for savvy shoppers. On a deeper level, though, time spent perusing resale and consignment shops often opens doors to new friendships and fosters a sense of belonging in the community — for sellers and buyers alike.
Adding heart to cart
Take, for example, The Briar Rose in downtown Litchfield. Owner Danell Fogle runs the shop with mom Lorinda Shaw, affectionately known to fellow staff members and customers as “Mama Bear.” Together with their merry band of “Briar Rose sisters” (staff and volunteers), canine mascot Lily and a few other four-legged friends, they visit with patrons browsing the store’s array of consignment items and local goods, all housed in a historic three-story building previously home to The New York Store, a ladies department store founded in 1888.
“When we started, there were maybe 1,500 to 1,800 consigners. We’re up to 3,090-something now,” Fogle says. “I’ve met a lot of new people over the years, and now they’re like family.”
Chassidy Houser, owner of The Clothing Rack in Sherman, says her consignment business is about a lot more than selling clothes. “As women, we are invested in people. I always want people to genuinely feel that,” she says. She started the business at the age of 22 in a 900-square-foot portion of the shop’s current building at her husband’s suggestion. “He said, ‘You’ve got the personality, the look and the passion for it. Look at our closet,’” she laughs.
Houser believes it is important that she and her staff set themselves apart from their counterparts at typical retail stores, particularly when it comes to lending a listening ear. “Sometimes [customers] haven’t had any interaction for maybe a few days, so this is their outlet,” she adds.
Down the road in Rochester, what began for Michele Tebrugge as a short-term position for the single mom became a 25-plus-year career at Remarkable Resale, opened by owner Kitty Boyce in May 1991. “My daughter was in school with Kitty’s daughter. This was [supposed to be] temporary until I found a full-time bookkeeping job.”
Tebrugge says she has formed lasting friendships with patrons over the years. “We have customers who have been coming since their kids were young,” she says. “We just know what’s going on in each other’s lives.”
One of those customers is Kitty’s sister-in-law, Ronda Boyce, who has been shopping resale stores with her friends for at least 20 years. “It used to be there was a stigma attached to secondhand,” she says. “Now it’s unique. It’s popular.”
In addition to Remarkable Resale and The Clothing Rack, Ronda recommends Blessingdales in Decatur. “One of the reasons I really like it is because they have a great selection of name brands.” She says she prefers shopping at well-organized stores. “You can get something at Goodwill, but you really have to hunt and search.”
The inventory isn’t the only draw, however. “It doesn’t matter if we go in there and buy one thing. It’s fun. It’s something for us to do and enjoy [an] afternoon,” says Ronda, adding that the atmosphere tends to be more friendly than regular retail stores. “If you buy, you buy. It’s not just about the sale.”
“We want you to feel invited in,” says Houser. After 12 years and multiple expansions, she purchased the entire complex. Houser shares that the staff recently celebrated reaching 14,000 active consigners. “That does not happen overnight,” she says. “When we hit that mark, we all did a little dance party.”
Those consigners have different selling habits. “We have our weekly, we have our monthly [visitors]. We have our ‘I visit you twice a year to bring my seasonal clothing,’ and I have my snowbirds … so you see a lot of familiar faces,” says Houser. “This past Monday, we sold prom dresses to two lovely girls … and we were so excited. Those are special moments in our store.”
Ronda explains that it’s more of an adventure than a hobby and advises fellow shoppers to just have fun. “Don’t go in with any expectations. Have fun, look and enjoy. You never know what you’re going to find.”
Pickin’ and grinnin’
Adventurous secondhand shoppers don’t need to limit their fun to indoor arenas. Another option is outdoor markets, like the Litchfield Pickers Market. Organizer Mark Brazel explains how the event originated.
“We used to do a little flea market over in Macoupin County at the fairgrounds. A friend of mine used to run it,” he says. After his friend’s wife passed away, he asked Brazel if he wanted to take over the event, who ultimately agreed and decided to move the event closer to home in Litchfield.
He bounced some ideas around with friends, one of whom was Robbie Wolfe of the TV show “American Pickers.” “Robbie would come down here and go picking with me, and we got to chat about it. We exchanged a bunch of ideas, and I formulated a plan and went to the city council with it,” he says. “They were receptive.”
The 2015 event took off, according to Brazel. “We had people the first few years from Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, Iowa … it was kind of a big deal. Robbie agreed to come to the first one and signed autographs all day,” he says. “We had a huge crowd. People were just amazed. We probably had 3,000 to 5,000 people.”
Fifty-eight vendor spots were filled for that first market. Since then, the event has increased to as many as 474 spots. “That’s how much it grew — it was 18 city blocks. We had to shut more streets off,” Brazel says.
However, like resale shop owners, he believes there’s more than just transactions taking place. “We have live music; we have food on every corner. It’s kind of like a big get-together,” says Brazel. “It’s good for the fellowship of it more than anything. The pickers market and antiques and stuff are just kind of a bonus.”
It takes a village
Fogle explains another important aspect to her business — how it serves the community. One such way The Briar Rose gives back is by offering space to other local small business owners.
“I have a lady who makes honey products. We have a lady who makes candles. I try to find as much as I can that is locally handmade, or people who can’t afford a storefront,” she says. “It keeps them going also.”
There are other ways as well, like participating alongside other local businesses in community food drives and benefits to raise money for neighbors or organizations in need. “Last year, we did a murder mystery dinner, and the money went to the Litchfield Fire Department,” Fogle says.
Of course, there are items that don’t sell in the allotted amount of time. “We have local charities we donate to,” says Fogle. In addition to their regular donations to Hearts United in Litchfield, unsold merchandise has been used to provide clothing for people who need clothes in the wake of an emergency hospital visit and for families following a house fire or other hardship.
The Clothing Rack also donates unsold items to local organizations. “We love doing Inner City Mission; that is our favorite. They love getting our kids’ clothes,” says Houser, naming the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities as fellow beneficiaries.
Matt Clark, safety instructor for the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives, and his wife Nina own Used to Be Yours, with locations in Shelbyville and Mattoon. He advises watching Facebook posts for featured items on sale. Linda Meier, who helps out at The Briar Rose, says the same. “Once something is posted, it tends to go quickly,” she says.
People wishing to consign their items should check with shops before dropping off items. For instance, The Clothing Rack is 100 percent consignment. Other shops, like Used to Be Yours and Remarkable Resale, pay upfront. There are typically guidelines as to what will be accepted, sometimes determined by the age of items and/or the season, but these vary from store to store.
Brazel also shares his advice for Pickers Market vendors and buyers. For vendors: “If it’s not selling, put something else on the table. [People] don’t want to see the same, they want something new every time.” For buyers: “Always negotiate. Everybody’s willing to negotiate with you. We dicker with everybody, and we enjoy it. That’s part of it.”
Resale shop recommendations from electric cooperative employees across Illinois:
The Country Closet
27 Greenlaw Ave., Flora
– Adam McKnight, Clay Electric Co-operative
Once ’n Again
123 W. Madison St., Pontiac
118 W. Locust St., Fairbury
Strictly Kids Resale Shop
108 N. Sangamon, Gibson City
804 Eastwood Drive, Mahomet
– Melinda Garrelts, Eastern Illini Electric Cooperative
Renew Secondhand Store
1130C E. Walnut St., Carbondale
2705 Walton Way, Marion
– Lora Wolters, Egyptian Electric Cooperative Association
The Blue Butterfly Resale Shop
311 W. Main St., Havana
– Michelle McNeal, Menard Electric Cooperative
518 Park St., Waterloo
The Back Porch
215 W. Mill St., Waterloo
Helping Hands Thrift Shop
695 N. Moore St. #1009, Waterloo
126 S. Main St., Columbia
Second Chance Consignment
505 S. Main St., Red Bud
– Julie Rohr, Monroe County Electric Cooperative
Silk Purse Thrift Store
8526 IL-130, Newton
– Denise Pless, Norris Electric Cooperative
New 2 U 2
518 Wabash Ave., Carthage
– Wendi Whitaker, Western Illinois Electrical Coop.
The Briar Rose
216 N. State St., Litchfield
Mon.-Tues.: 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Wed.-Fri.: 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Sat.: 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
The Clothing Rack
271 S. Sherman Blvd., Sherman
Mon.-Fri.: 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m.
Sat.: 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
130 S. John St., Rochester
Mon.-Sat.: 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
Sun.: Noon-5 p.m.
Used to Be Yours
152 E. Main St., Shelbyville
1900 Western Ave., Mattoon
Mon.-Fri.: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Sat.: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Sun: 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
The Pickers Market
400 N. State St., Litchfield
Takes place every second Sunday of the month
2023 dates: May 14, June 11, July 9, Aug. 13, Sept. 10 and Oct. 8