Medford resident Elise Routt searches for Christmas presents for her granddaughters Wednesday at the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store in Medford. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

Merry Thriftmas

The day after Thanksgiving typically ushers in the heaviest shopping spree of the year.

But the bleak economic outlook and a Jackson County unemployment rate nearing 8 percent have changed the nature of holiday shopping this year. To pinch pennies, more and more people are turning to secondhand stores to buy holiday gifts, as well as day-to-day necessities.

"We hear all the time that this is the only way to shop in this economy," said Sue Hammer, manager of the White City Salvation Army thrift store.

While retail generally has seen dips in sales, thrift-store sales have experienced an uptick, shopkeepers said. The Southern Oregon Goodwill, for instance, experienced a 7.4-percent increase in sales in November over 2007.

"Why would you buy a string of lights for four to 10 dollars when you could buy it for one dollar?" asked Karen McNeilly, volunteer store manager at St. Vincent de Paul thrift store in Medford.

Secondhand stores typically save up Christmas items over the year, including choice toys, for the season.

St. Vincent de Paul volunteers unloaded 40 boxes of Christmas decorations for their displays set out across the front of the store, said volunteer Julie Wiley. Boxes of tinsel and ornaments sat behind curio cabinets topped with ceramic angels and nativity scenes.

"Those go quickly," Wiley said.

Central Point resident Treva Kuyper said she buys her Christmas decorations, candles, wrapping paper, festive boxes and other holiday packaging at thrift stores across the valley. Kuyper began her Christmas shopping in August and already has bought all of her three children's stocking stuffers. Among the stocking goodies sitting in her cart at the White City Goodwill Wednesday was a package of Christmas pencils.

"Whenever I pass by a Goodwill and have 20 minutes, I drop in to see if there's anything worthwhile," said Kuyper, who noted her thrift-store patronage began long before the economy started to sag.

She and her husband have shared a holiday tradition of competing to find the best gifts for each other at secondhand stores. Each has a spending limit of $10.

The practice has helped the family stay solvent on a largely one-income budget, she said. Lately, however, she's seen more people at the local secondhand shops.

"I have noticed more people, especially looking at stockings and ornaments," Kuyper said.

White City resident Jane Nelson said her husband recently was laid off, so it's important to save money any way she can. Accompanied by her three children, she carted around a children's phonics book and a stuffed animal at the White City Goodwill.

"These are for now," Nelson said. "I don't usually take them if I go Christmas shopping."

The merchandise depends on the store.

For children, volunteers at St. Vincent de Paul suggested children's books for $1 — some of them new — or an item from its large selection of toys.

Medford resident Elise Routt found a stuffed walrus and lady bug at St. Vincent de Paul to give to one of her granddaughters for Christmas.

"She likes animals," Routt said. "I'm on a limited budget, and this is a nice place to shop for me."

Terry Putnam, a Medford resident and veteran thrift-store shopper, sorted through a display of Christmas ornaments at the White City Goodwill in search of anything featuring horses, for a friend who collects horses.

Putnam has shopped for gifts at thrift stores for years, but she said the hobby has been gaining popularity with others.

"I actually have friends who shop at Goodwills who never did before, because of the economy," Putnam said. "You can buy four times the amount of what you can buy new."

Gold Hill resident Sharon Williams searched for jam jars at the White City Salvation Army. Because of a limited budget, she is making jam as gifts.

"I need them to be inexpensive that I won't need back," Williams said. "Maybe I'll also find something wonderful for my grandkids for Christmas."

Beyond saving money during holiday gift-giving, secondhand shopping spreads goodwill in other ways, McNeilly said.

At shops such as the Goodwill and St. Vincent de Paul, most of the revenue goes toward assistance and job training for the indigent and disabled.

Patronizing secondhand shops also is kinder to the environment than buying new.

"Repurchasing secondhand merchandise is saving the Earth's resources by not having things made again and saving on packaging," McNeilly said.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or

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