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Donations down while more people shopping at area Goodwill stores

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By Chris Sardelli

Flipping through racks of blue jeans at Lancaster’s Goodwill Retail Store, Koios Orion is on the hunt for the perfect deal.

He’s looking for a couple pairs of stylish jeans, and with prices as low as $5 for some pairs, Orion said the store is great for fashion-conscious customers on a budget.

“They have a lot of stylish clothes, a lot of stuff you can’t find anywhere else,” Orion said. “It’s cheap. I usually can’t afford clothes, but I like to change clothes and change my style a lot.”

Orion, who recently moved to the area from New York to live near his retired parents, was drawn to the store by its low prices and high-quality merchandise.

A self-professed “struggling musician” and song-writer, Orion has been trying to find ways to save money while looking for a day job. So far, he hasn’t had much luck.

“I was in the construction field, and I could always find a job digging a hole or something,” he said. “But now everyone knows someone who needs a job, and if you know someone, you get the job.”

Orion doesn’t know the right someone to get the job he needs.

That’s why he’s been regularly stopping by the store on the S.C. 9 Bypass.

And even though the store is usually busy, Orion has seen an upswing in the number of customers  joining him in searching for a deal.

“Ever since the economy went down, this place is packed,” Orion said. “There’s definitely an increase in the amount of people in the store.”

Another loyal customer searching the shelves is Linda Cullen, who has shopped at Goodwill for more than 20 years.

Cullen, who lives in Heath Springs and operates an online retail business, said she buys items she can make a profit on. With the store’s low prices, she said that could mean anything in the store.

“This is always where I go,” Cullen said. “I think people come here when economy is bad because they’re looking for a bargain.”

Linda Brown agrees with her.

Brown, who lives in Lancaster and has also been shopping at Goodwill for several years, prefers shopping at the store rather than department stores.

“When I go into other stores, the prices are a little outrageous with the economy the way it is right now,” Brown said. “You can buy some other things that you wouldn’t be able to afford somewhere else, like clothing or furniture.”

As she browses a rack of newly donated clothing, Brown spots several potential outfits, many of which have designer names.  She said that makes them even more attractive.

“I think even if I had a million dollars, I’d still shop here,” she said.

Sales increase, donations down

Bo Hussey, spokesman for Goodwill Industries, said these customers are just some of the many who are flocking to the 19 Goodwill stores throughout the southern Piedmont region of the Carolinas.

Sales at those stores have increased more than 8 percent through March, compared to last year, Hussey said.

He said sales at the Lancaster’s store have remained static, with no change in sales, but said it‘s impressive not to lose sales in a down economy.

“Without a doubt, the economic times we’re living in have brought more shoppers to Goodwill. They’re looking for a great value on good items,” Hussey said. “It’s really amazing what great finds you can get here. It’s a treasure hunt because the items on the floor change every day.”

Hussey said the new crop of customers includes people from many different types of demographics, including many who’ve never shopped at Goodwill before. The most popular items they are searching for include women’s clothing and household accessories.

Anita Hill, manager of the Lancaster store, has seen a lot of new customers come in over the last few weeks, but said a majority of her customers are regulars.

“A lot of good people come in and look around,” Hill said. “Some come in every day, regularly.”

6 percent down

Despite the increase in sales, both Hussey and Hill have noticed a steady decrease in donations. Hussey said donations are down almost 6 percent at all their stores, compared to last year.

Hussey blames the decrease on the economy, as people have decided to hold on to their personal items.

Hill said donations at the Lancaster store have been slow for months until last week when a surge of people decided to drop off clothing and other items. She said the spring weather may have something to do with the sudden increase, as people start their spring cleaning.

Helping the                     community

Hussey wants to get the word out about how important donations are to Goodwill.

He said the more people donate, the more items Goodwill has to sell, which helps with another major portion of Goodwill’s services – its job-training programs, which help to place people in local jobs.

Goodwill operates several job-resource centers, including locations in Charlotte, Gastonia and Shelby. There people can use computers, faxes and phones to do job searches or write resumes.

Hussey said 88 cents of every dollar spent at Goodwill retail stores goes to fund these programs.

“When people shop at the store, not only do they get a great deal or value, but they help people go back to work,” Hussey said.

He said Goodwill assisted 6,700 people in job searches in 2007, and doubled that number to 13,300 people in 2008. Last year, Goodwill helped more than 2,700 people get jobs in the area.

“It’s phenomenal that’s 2,700 people who didn’t have a job before they got here,” he said. “But with donations down, it could eventually affect it (the services).”

For details about donating to Goodwill or using the organization’s job- training program, visit the group’s Web site at www.goodwillsp.org.

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at csardelli@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 416-8416