Editor’s Note: This article is the second in our Secondhand in the City series, which examines the secondhand clothing market in Harrisonburg. Overall, the secondhand market is projected to grow 3x faster on average than the global apparel market overall and nearly double to reach $350 Billion by 2027. The first story focused on local thrift stores and this article looks at clothing resale stores.
Every piece of apparel for sale in Dart Resale and Trade is hand selected by owner Mary Yoder-Anderson to round out a “vibe.”
The clothing comes in brown cardboard boxes, clear organizing bins or white laundry baskets to the front desk of her downtown Harrisonburg store. By 1 p.m., the wait time for Yoder-Anderson to sort through a dropoff and select purchases for her store is three hours and climbing.
The Oregon native promises to send sellers text messages when she’s finished with drop-offs and offers thanks when sellers say that they will return to pick up their items tomorrow—that means she has more time to “dig,” as she calls it.
With the recent closure of Second Time Around, there are now six resale clothing stores in the city: Dart, Plato’s Closet, Once Upon a Child, Style Encore, Heartworn Vintage and Waterstreet Bohemian. (Editor’s Note: Because of vintage resale’s unique characteristics, Waterstreet Bohemian and Heartworn Vintage will be covered in a later article.)
Together, these stores represent a resale market projected to grow nine times faster than the broader retail clothing sector by 2027.
Resale is “a sector of the broader ‘secondhand’ market that includes more curated product assortments, often well merchandised and/or higher end,” according to industry leader ThredUp’s 2023 Resale Report.
Like thrift stores, these resellers sort through one-off apparel items from people in the community, but unlike thrift stores, they have the added pressure of catering to their target market—and enticing sellers to supply their inventory.
A curated collection
One of 14 entrepreneurs in the Harrisonburg Economic Development’s first-ever Launch Harrisonburg cohort, Yoder-Anderson opened Dart after a career as an art teacher.
“At year eight, I felt like I needed to do something else. I was looking for a change, and I thought, ‘Well, what if I just tried to open my own secondhand store?’ You know, like the types of store that I like,” she said.
To build an inventory for her store, she drove to thrift stores within a five-hour radius of Harrisonburg. From the start, her vision was a curated collection of casual, well-made clothing that would bridge college students and young professionals.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to have a store like this,” she said.
Dart, the youngest of the city’s resale stores, follows a buy-sell-trade model inspired by Buffalo Exchange and Crossroads Trading, places Yoder-Anderson grew up shopping.
“I’ve always been a thrifter…. and so I always thought Harrisonburg needs a store like this,” she said.
When the brick-and-mortar shop opened in October 2020, selling and trading was restricted to the first week of the month, but by the end of the month, the inventory was lacking.
Now, Dart buys and trades every Tuesday.
“It’s a slower retail day anyway,” she said.
Yoder-Anderson keeps the store stocked with quality basics, though she admits she finds it hard to resist “funky, weird stuff.” At this, she separates a rack of clothing and picks up a bright purple windbreaker covered in geometric shapes.
“I like to have good basics in here that can kind of go with the wild things,” she says. “We kind of have a bit of everything in here, but I like for it to be at least well made.”
“Recycle your style”
The Spotswood Valley Square is a resale haven. Plato’s Closet, Once Upon a Child and Style Encore are locally owned, but they share the same franchise company, Winmark, and the same parking lot.
Over here, every day is a buying day.
“It’s shocking how much people actually collect in clothing,” said Plato’s Closet store manager Liz Dean from the back office. In the corner of the office, a styled male mannequin sits in an armchair. An employee joke, she explains.
Dean has resale roots. In addition to managing Plato’s, she owns the city’s Once Upon a Child and is a part-owner of the Winchester Plato’s Closet store.
She says 95% of Plato’s inventory is purchased from the community.
“We look for freshly laundered, stain-free, minimal-wear clothing that have styles [that] have been trendy within the last 12-to-24 months,” she said.
Occasionally, she supplements with new accessories, such as socks, bralettes and hairclips.
“But for the most part, when it comes to the clothing aspect, we want to source everything from our community and be able to pay our customers back,” Dean said.
For stores operating under Winmark, there is no buy limit. Dean gestures to a stack of black-and-yellow storage containers where one might store holiday decorations.
“It’s nothing for someone to drop like 10 of those off. It becomes quite intense.”
She says her Plato’s employees can sort through one of those drop offs in an hour and a half, but it’s much more labor intensive at Once Upon a Child. “That’s gonna be a four-hour process because the kids’ clothing is just so much smaller, you get so much more in those bins.”
Out on the retail floor, Taylor Swift’s “Betty” plays over the loudspeakers, and the maze of color-coordinated clothing racks resembles an “after” photo from Netflix’s “The Home Edit.”
Inspirational hashtags are painted around the upper perimeter of the room: #SHOPLOCAL, #RECYLEYOURSTYLE, #FRIENDSDONTLETFRIENDSPAYFULLRETAIL.
Above the slide and clack of hangers moving across metal racks, the young employees behind the front desk at Plato’s strategize what they’ll get to eat after their shift’s end.
“My whole outfit is Plato’s,” says Izzy, a store keyholder who grew up in Staunton. “Usually everything I wear is Plato’s.”
The college students from metropolitan areas bring in the “good stuff,” Izzy says. Popular higher-end brands are Urban Outfitters, Free People and Madewell.
“Those are brands that usually come from the metropolitan areas and are super hard to obtain if you don’t go to that area or live there,” says Dean. For example, the nearest Madewell store is an hour’s drive away in Charlottesville and the nearest Urban Outfitters nearly two hours away in Richmond.
These elusive brands sell quickly, particularly “Lulu”—short for Lululemon, an up-market activewear brand with a cult-like following.
“We put it on the rack, and like 20 minutes later, someone is checking out with it,” says Plato’s employee Caterina Carbelli. “I mean, I have like everything Lulu and I don’t buy it for the hype, I buy it more for the quality because it lasts.”
At Style Encore some 400 feet away, the ambiance is decidedly more subdued. Many customers shop silently or exchange soft murmurs with their companions. Beverly Sensabaugh is one such customer browsing activewear.
“I’m not a secondhand clothing person,” she says. Style Encore is the exception. “It doesn’t smell. It’s a clean, nice atmosphere.”
In another aisle, two “stay-at-home moms” who shy away from providing their names are shopping at Style Encore for the first time. They’re looking for casual clothing that fits their lifestyle and say the “cheap” prices make them more willing to try a new style.
The retail veteran behind Style Encore is Debbie Wiseman, who opened the store in 2018. After earning her degree in fashion merchandising, Wiseman traversed the retail management landscape—from Kmart to Rugged Wearhouse to Gabe’s—when she noticed a gap in the Harrisonburg resale market.
There were few resale options in Harrisonburg for people in the middle-age range (between 25 and 55 years old) and for plus-sized individuals. Wiseman liked that Style Encore carried sizes from XS to 6X.
“Being a plus size lady, I saw that especially around here, since the Fashion Bug closed and … the Lane Bryant that used to be in the mall a long time ago, there’s no plus size unless you go to a department store or Walmart or Target,” she said.
In the back office, Wiseman sits in front of a burgundy wall with store signs in mirror writing, which are used for live stream events. A black NWT (new with tags) fur UGG-brand jacket hangs on a metal rack. Its original tag shows that it retails for $348, and Style Encore has priced it at $82, which means the brand new coat is being sold for over 75% off retail.
Unlike consignment shops, which pay sellers their portion after an item has sold, many resale shops pay sellers cash or store credit the day they drop off items. That means, the store takes the hit if the item goes to clearance or fails to sell.
Despite the large savings, Wiseman says customers who aren’t as brand-savvy are sometimes perplexed to find such a high price tag at a resale store. “Little Harrisonburg, a lot of people don’t get outside the area, so they know the local brands but they don’t know the other brands,” she says.
It’s clear Wiseman is an exception. Inside her gold hoop earrings are the words Michael Kors, and on her left wrist, she wears a gold watch with initials “MK” on the face. She says the only places in Harrisonburg where she’s found designer brands like Dooney & Bourke, Michael Kors or Coach are at T.J. Maxx and Belk.
“I mean, you can’t buy true luxury anywhere [in the city], unless you go to like Richmond or D.C.,” she said.
Wiseman leverages social media to keep her business successful. She gestures to a whiteboard where her two part-time employees create outfits and take flat lays.
“For us, Facebook is much more popular for our age range than Instagram,” Wiseman said. “We don’t really mess with [TikTok] because mature ladies don’t watch TikTok.”
She explains her store’s robust social media norms. There is the posting schedule—one post an hour between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. each day—and the Facebook live events every Thursday at 6 p.m.
“It keeps us busy,” Wiseman said.
“A little jingle”
Before Second Time Around officially closed its doors in August, it was a Harrisonburg staple, a fact that has everything to do with former owner Rachel Hildebrand. In fact, Hildebrand is so synonymous with the business that many people mistakenly believe she started it.
“That’s what everybody thinks, but I’m actually the third person to own Second Time Around,” Hildebrand said over the phone. She said the store was actually started by Patsy Weimer and sold shortly after to Larry and Vicky Fitzwater. Then, in 1994, it was her turn.
“You have to remember, this was 1,000 years ago, so I was reading the newspaper, and I saw a classified ad saying that it was for sale,” she said.
Hildebrand had known from a young age that she wanted to own her own business, and Second Time Around seemed like a great opportunity to wet her feet in business without becoming financially “ruined” if it failed.
“And then the rest, as they say, is history,” she said.
Hildebrand ran the business for 27 years, overseeing the store’s move to a new location on South High Street and building trust in the community of buyers and sellers. Operating under a consignment system, Second Time Around paid sellers only if their items sold, a model that requires sellers trust a business to have integrity.
Hildebrand said Second Time Around’s ability to benefit both the seller and the buyer is a hallmark of the consignment industry.
“It doesn’t change the world, but I loved the fact that it was a situation that was helping everyone involved,” she said. “To me, one of the most fun things about it was putting a little jingle in [a seller’s] pocket, and at the same time, [a buyer] is getting a better deal.”
Because of her love for the business, the decision to step back in 2021 was challenging.
“It was difficult because a small business is almost like having another child,” she said. “You nurture it, and it grows. And you worry about it, and you burst with pride when things go well. And you lay awake at night when you are trying to figure out what you need to do differently.”
The store ultimately closed just two years after Hildebrand sold it.
“That was sad,” she said. “That was hard.”
Style lag time
A trend emerges in conversations with store owners and managers: Harrisonburg isn’t that trendy.
“For a long time, we would watch what was going on in Washington, D.C., or New York or the West Coast, and we would know that in two years people in Harrisonburg would want it,” Hildebrand said.
But that was 20 years ago, and Hildebrand expects the city has grown more trendy today, in part, because of social media.
“Now we don’t have to go to New York to see what the fashion is in New York,” she said.
At Style Encore, Wiseman maintains that Harrisonburg lags a year or two behind the trends. One surprising benefit of the city’s aversion to style shifts? It makes selecting inventory easier.
“Jean styles are a great example,” Wiseman said. “We’re still doing a straight leg, a skinny leg and a boyfriend. [Our customers] are not buying flares or the huge bell bottom-y types that you would see maybe on the runway or a big city.”
Meanwhile at Plato’s, which caters to a teen and young adult demographic, there is a “melting pot of styles,” Dean said. Trends range from grunge to athletic to preppy and everything in between.
“The JMU girls love the chokers here,” she said. And despite the dropping temperatures, party tops are popular. “You would think that okay, we’re getting 50 degree nights so tank tops are not gonna sell. Oh my goodness, they still are hopping—just flying out the door right now.”
All that changes in mid-December when most college students leave for winter break.
“When JMU is not in, they’re definitely more conservative, more minimalist style,” Dean said. “When JMU is in it, honestly the sky’s the limit.”
“Celebrating in the racks”
Earlier this year, ThredUp CEO James Reinhart’s declared that over the last five-to-ten years, shopping secondhand has “gone from stigmatized to celebrated.”
Harrisonburg second-hand store proprietors have noticed that change.
“I would say that it’s been more than a decade since the mindshift became really, really pronounced,” Hildebrand said. “It’s been dramatic over the last 15 years. It started well before the last decade.”
Despite the different perspective on timeline, Hildebrand said she agrees with the overall sentiment. “He’s definitely right that there really was, back in the day, quite a stigma,” she said.
She can remember back to the ‘90s, at the store’s first location, when women would ask who consigned an item before purchasing it. They didn’t want to show up to an event wearing a dress that had come from another attendee’s closet. Hildebrand never shared the private information.
“It wasn’t an everyday thing, but it definitely happened way more than once. And now, I can’t even imagine in the last 10 years that being a concern,” she said.
Wiseman said there’s a different mindset among customers.
“When I was growing up, talk about being bullied,” Wiseman said. She said when she was young, it was common for some students to pick on the “poor kids” with holes in their jeans. Now, shredded jeans are in style.
She thinks some people shop secondhand for the environment, while others are drawn to the great deals.
Dean credits Plato’s success with this cultural shift around secondhand shopping. “Back in the day, parents would go in and do secondhand, and a lot of kids were against it,” she said.
“They thrive off of it now, especially the younger generations because it’s all about customization and really embodying your own style and body….it’s kind of like a treasure hunt. Honestly, you’ll hear people celebrating in the racks.”
Today, resale stores are an unexpected site of cultural exchange, linking Harrisonburg to markets, trends and styles that originated far away. At Dart, Yoder-Anderson processes a previous seller’s payout while a seller in a striped shirt waits with her a tote of clothing.
“Is that shirt from here?” Yoder-Anderson asks between glances at the checkout screen. “I remember that shirt.”
“That’s impressive,” the woman replies. She says she bought the top at Dart maybe a year ago.
It’s not the sort of conversation one has at a traditional retail store, but it’s just another day in resale.
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