Savers: A lesson in thrift-cycling

I had my first Savers shopping experience recently, and hallelujah! I'm a believer.

This chain is literally and figuratively the granddaddy of all thrift stores, with a 54-year history, a kickin' business model and beaucoup merchandise laid out really well in-store. (I'm assuming, of course, that the Daly City, CA location where I shopped is indicative of how Savers runs its other 200-plus stores, but that would seem to be a given.)

First, to the shopping. I walked out with two coats, a pair of pants and an old-school phone (so I'll have a functioning land line when the power goes out) for less than $25. This total was thanks in part to the monthly coupon in the Savers calendar, available for $1.99 or free with your purchase of $20 or more. I got an additional 20% off for bringing in a bag of stuff to donate, which is a great way for those of us whose itemized donations don't always add up to a tax break to get some sort of return for them. (The downside, according to my Savers-savvy friend, is seeing your old clothes on the sales racks on your next store visit and wanting to buy them back.)

More altruistic shoppers can bring their donations to one of the nonprofits allied with Savers, both national groups such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and local organizations like HOPE Rehabilitation Services (which just happens to be in my 'hood). Savers pays its nonprofit alliances based on the number of boxes and bags of merchandise they deliver. Nonprofits also get a percentage of the individual donations customers deliver directly to the stores. In all, these alliances have generated more than $1 billion for the nonprofits involved.

Savers' charitable bent began with its founder, William O. Ellison, who opened his first store in San Francisco in 1954. Ellison's grandfather and great uncle, Ben and Orlo Ellison, were instrumental in building the Salvation Army's thrift organization in the 1930s and '40s.

With thousands -- possibly tens of thousands -- of items for sale, Savers staff deserves all props for keeping clothing grouped by type and, more importantly, by size. Usually, I experience emotional peaks and valleys when thrift shopping when I pull a really cute blouse off the rack only to find out that despite being placed among the mediums, it was apparently either shrunken or stretched by its previous owner. At Savers, everything is right where it's supposed to be, and it's priced to move.

Items that don't sell get shipped to developing nations, completing what Savers calls its thrift cycle. It's a cycle I'll happy to repeat.

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