More Coming Through the Door at Consignment Shops
Thursday, February 26, 2009
The harried mother, pregnant and with a 2-year-old at her heels, turned up at the Christ Child Opportunity Shop just before Christmas toting a large antique silver tankard.
She presented it casually -- "Oh, this old trophy?" -- recalled Jay York, the shop's manager. After examining the tankard, York discovered it was a 1799 piece from the workshop of famed silversmith Hester Bateman. The young woman, York later heard, was too proud to say that her husband had lost his job and she needed to pawn the family silver.
York eventually arranged to have it sold quietly to a local collector for $5,000.
Such tales of woe are common these days, as everyone from suburban baby boomers whose nest eggs are dwindling to laid-off CEOs are turning to local consignment boutiques to raise fast cash: selling monogrammed silver, grandmother's china and crystal, or family antiques.
Sellers often tearfully part with their beloved objects, shopkeepers say.
"We're subbing as therapists, in addition to jewelry and estate buyers," said Brian Diener, the owner of Diener Jewelers in the District, which also consigns silver, crystal and china. "The people we see coming in are age 55 to 65, people who retired early and never thought their 401(k)s would be down to zero. That has doubled and tripled in the last few weeks."
At some local consignment stores, sales figures have jumped 20 percent in recent months, while others have reported breaking even or recording a slight drop in sales. Most have had a sharp uptick in the number of people hoping to consign items, numbers that began growing in September and have kept rising as the economy continues to slide.
Beginning last fall, for example, York has had to limit the number of items accepted because of an "avalanche of people" coming to consign at the Christ Child Opportunity Shop, a consignment gallery on Wisconsin Avenue NW in Georgetown that has been a local landmark since 1933. The Christ Child Society, a nonprofit organization that helps area youth, gets a third of its operating revenue from sales at the shop.
York encourages newbie consignors to visit the shop beforehand to get a sense of what it sells.
"People are willing to part with better things. They seem a little bit more in need of money, so there's a tremendous demand of people wanting to consign," York said. Terms vary; at the Opportunity Shop, the store evenly splits the sale price with the consignor on items that sell for $100 or less. For items over $100 it's a 60-40 split: 60 percent to the consignor and 40 percent to the charity.
Business is up more than 20 percent at S&K Consignment Boutique, part of the Sloans & Kenyon auction house in Chevy Chase, said president Stephanie Kenyon.
"From last September it's been amazing traffic, with a lot of buying across the board: furniture, china, lamps and interesting knickknacks," Kenyon said. "If you can buy a nice mahogany end table for $75, why look further?"