Personal Sell-Offs

Consignment Sales Rise as Economy Falls

At Georgetown's Christ Child Opportunity Shop, sales of antiques and collectibles are up 15 percent over last year.
At Georgetown's Christ Child Opportunity Shop, sales of antiques and collectibles are up 15 percent over last year. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
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By Jura Koncius
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 11, 2008

Patricia Ohlemiller packed up her Edmund Scientific Astroscan telescope last week and headed to the Gaithersburg iSold It eBay drop-off center. She hoped to recoup $150, minus commission, of its original $350 value.

Planning to retire next year and worried about putting her house on the market, Ohlemiller said, "I'd rather sell stuff I don't need and get the cash."

Colleen Magro dragged a heavy box to the Bethesda offices of Sloans & Kenyon Auctioneers and Appraisers a couple of weeks ago for appraisal day. Inside were carefully wrapped Chinese ceramics and Brazilian sculptures set with semi-precious stones that she hoped to consign.

"I was laid off in December," Magro said. "I need money. I thought I'd have a job by now."

It's too late to dump Fannie Mae stock, but you can still dump that Marie Osmond doll, David Yurman bracelet or Krups espresso machine in its original box. With financial markets in perpetual meltdown, a growing number of people anxious about jobs, savings and retirement are looking over their living room shelves, storage units, attics and safety deposit boxes for items they no longer use or like. They're contacting online sellers, consignment shops and auctions about unloading the unwanted possessions.

"People are selling coins their grandfather gave them for gas money," says Nicholas Pyle, an eBay trading assistant based in Georgetown, who has been getting panicked calls. Listings on eBay, an auction site, have increased 19 percent in the past year, and overall revenue has grown 13 percent, spokeswoman Jenny Baragary said.

Classified ads for furniture and household items on Craigslist are up nearly 100 percent from last year, spokeswoman Susan MacTavish Best said in an e-mail. "Our savvy, penny-pinching users are responding to the unruly economy by selling and trading goods for quick cash in their wallets."

Sales have increased 15 percent over last year at Upscale Resale, a furniture consignment shop in Falls Church. "This is the first time in the 16 years we've been in operation that we've seen people bring in whole houses that are part of foreclosures and evictions," owner Bob Willey said.

Will the economic crisis force Americans to examine overstuffed closets and rethink the longtime mantra to "collect 'em all"?

Daniel Nissanoff is the author of ''FutureShop: How to Trade Up to a Luxury Lifestyle Today,'' about how online shopping affects consumer culture. He says buying and selling branded goods secondhand has become socially acceptable. "The Internet did not exist in prior down cycles," he said. "Now you can truly liquidate your material possessions and create money."

Local auction houses are bustling. "Some people are cagey about it, but others are direct: 'My stocks have taken a bit of a beating, and I should clear this out, make some space and get some bucks in the process,' " said Stephanie Kenyon, president of Sloans & Kenyon, where auction sales are up 20 percent over a year ago, and sales at its adjoining consignment store have risen 28 percent. "Sometimes selling off a few good things can help people living on a fixed income."

At Weschler's Auctioneers and Appraisers in the District, well-dressed matrons are dipping into their supply of botanical engravings or sterling trays to help tide them over until the blue chips bounce back. "We are not a pawn shop, so people don't walk in here expecting immediate cash," said Virginia Weschler, executive vice president. "Part of our job is helping people save face and keep their self-respect."


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