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Thrift shop owners have ‘big’ expectations for ’21

Following months battling with the COVID-19 pandemic, three thrift shop owners in Puerto Rico, have set their expectations high for a better 2021.

For Jade Tavarez, Francheska Nazario and Mónica Oquendo the goal is to remain resilient during these tough times. 

Nazario, owner of the Closet Sustentable thrift shop in Bayamón, has been in the second-hand industry since 2017. Her business, like many, has been affected by the COVID-19 restrictions, but she’s not letting that stand in her way.

“I hope to increase my sales in the store and that more people get to know me and the store,” she said. “I hope that many people will learn the benefits of buying from thrift shops and that people will become more educated about my store and other thrift shops,” Nazario said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has not been positive for Nazario’s business, she said.

“I moved in March and then the lockdown happened, which caused me to behind on my sales. I officially opened the store in October,” Nazario said.

Closet Sustentable has second-hand clothing and accessories for sale at its Bayamón store.

Nazario said “sales have been slow,” and she has been looking for options to increase retail activity.

“I opened a website and an Instagram account, so that if someone is interested in something, they can buy it on the page and go to the store to pick it up,” the entrepreneur said.

Nazario started with a small store that sold accessories and clothing for babies and children, but later expanded, on the advice of her clients.

“Clients who came into my store told me that I should sell second-hand clothes, but for children. I started looking for information and started a store called Closet Swapping,” Nazario said.

Unfortunately, the children’s clothing business was not enough, so she decided to expand her inventory. In March 2020, she decided to move to her new location in Bayamón, where she added new items, such as clothing for adults and household items.

Closet Sustentable applies the credit method in its store. That means that the customer that brings an item to sell is given a store credit, depending on the prices Nazario sets.

As part of the procedure, Nazario applies a disinfection method for items that customers bring into the store and items they return.

Meanwhile, Tavarez, owner of the Vintage Rack thrift shop on Jesús T Piñero Ave., has been in the industry since 2014. In the beginning of her venture into retail, she launched her business on a platform called MercadoU, where people would put their items for sale.

Tavarez was with MercadoU for a short period of time and then moved on to start selling on her own via the Instagram app and Facebook.

Although her shop has been closed during the pandemic, Vintage Rack customers can buy online for pick-up. All items are disinfected and are “quarantined” — or not put on sale until at least seven days after arriving at the store, she said.

She said the pandemic has been “much worse than Hurricane María,” cutting sales by half during the months of September and October.

“The first months were positive in terms of sales. During the quarantine I did not open the store. On my page I dedicated myself to putting information on how to take care of vintage products. I dedicated myself to educating in those times of the quarantine,” Tavarez said.

At the Vintage Rack, all items are disinfected and are “quarantined” — or not put on sale until at least seven days after arriving at the store.

Looking ahead, she hopes the new year will bring an end to the pandemic, so she can reopen her store and see her sales increase. She hopes to continue offering her sewing and embroidery lessons and continue to educate on what she loves the most, vintage, she said.

“I’m still here because I love what I do, I love my clients and the purpose that I have,” Tavarez said, adding that she has sold vintage products to famous artists in the music industry such as Bad Bunny and Residente (also known as Calle 13).

“I sell to productions; I have sold to Netflix and Banco Popular. Besides selling to my public, I also sell to many local productions,” the entrepreneur said.

The Vintage Rack thrift shop also offers store credit to pay for the items brought in. She also likes to donate pieces of clothing to different people in need, worth about “$8,000 of merchandise annually,” said Tavarez, who has donated textiles to theater workers, seamstresses, artisans, and women who are victims of domestic violence.

Rounding out the trio is Mónica Oquendo, owner of the Electroshock thrift shop, which has two stores — one in Santurce and the other in Rio Piedras, which was the first to open in 2011.

When the first Electroshock store opened, there were not many thrift shops at the time, she said.

“For me it has always been important to do things based on need and not because it’s in style or because it’s going to make money — but because it’s necessary,” Oquendo said.

Another reason for opening where she did was to focus on the university students that live in the Rio Piedras neighborhood, she said. At Electroshock, they have a place where they can buy inexpensive clothes and be entertained while doing so, Oquendo said.

The store sells clothing, jewelry, vinyl records and products from local Puerto Rican artists. Electroshock also works with the store credit method.

“The customers bring us the clothes, we check them and give a store credit for the pieces we choose,” Oquendo said, also confirming that pieces are disinfected prior to being put on the rack.

“Right now, we have another process because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Clothing is not put out immediately. First, they are categorized, and we take them out after a week. I take home most of the clothes and wash them. We process like two batches of clothes a day,” Oquendo said.

“We also have a steamer that we pass over the pieces of clothing,” Oquendo added.

Meanwhile, the entrepreneur said the restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic have not triggered a change in sales.

“Since it’s Christmas, I don’t think it would ever be the same as before, but it’s not as much of a difference as I thought,” Oquendo said. “I would like to sell more but it’s not a big difference for what we’re going through.”

The pandemic, she said, makes it hard to set expectations for 2021, but Oquendo hopes to continue working and operating Electroshock, while taking on the events that she said continue to reaffirm that she “is on the right track and that everything is a part of having a business.”


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