Los Angeles — As befits a recording artist living in fashion-conscious California, Laura Cohn has an extravagant wardrobe stuffed with world-class labels and high-wattage jewelry.
But she's going for a different brand of shock and awe: Her two pairs of True Religion jeans, which can run more than $300 apiece, cost $35 and $40 at the Lucky You Resale Boutique in North Hollywood. She put down $23 for her Coach loafers. The Gucci sandals she wears to work? $25.
The 45-year-old Burbank resident is a longtime bargain shopper. Recently married, she bought her wedding dress for $20 on eBay. She rarely ventures into department stores, preferring to "buy designer clothes for next to nothing."
"It's pretty funny to see people's jaws drop - they can't decide if they're going to smile or be sick," she said. "I love getting deals."
Boutiques are folding, and fewer buyers and sellers are going to a shrinking number of retail trade shows.
But Cohn is getting a lot of company at consignment, resale and thrift stores, from parents shopping for back-to-school clothes to sales reps trying to squeeze cash out of samples no one else will buy.
"There's a panic right now, and everyone's scared out there," Lucky You co-owner Dina Kimmel said. "But resale is booming. Business for everybody else is bad, but for us, it's great."
Consignment stores sell goods for individual consignors, who technically own the item until the sale goes through and they receive a portion of the transaction. High-end consignment typically is referred to as resale. Thrift or charity businesses usually stock their stores through donations and keep all the revenue.
In a survey conducted by the National Association of Resale & Thrift Shops comparing sales figures for April 2007 and April 2008 at 185 stores, 75 percent said their sales had increased, 80 percent reported a jump in new customers and 65 percent noted a boost in suppliers. Just 10 percent said their sales had decreased.
Department store sales fell 5.7 percent from July 2007 to the same month this year, and the specialty apparel sector skidded 5.5 percent, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.
At Lucky You, sellers have ramped up their spring cleaning, some coming in weekly when they once swung by twice a year. Even wealthier customers who once donated now consign, spreading the extra cash to baby sitters or housekeepers, Kimmel said.
After a while, most consignment stores offer to donate a seller's items to charity. But these days, more sellers are opting to take back the goods and try their luck elsewhere, store owners said.
The consignor list at Lucky You gets crowded faster than it used to. Kimmel and fellow owner Gina Canepa now accept only brand-name items.
Some consignors are finding that the common 30 percent to 50 percent cut they get at a store isn't enough. So they head to consignment conventions, where they sometimes see up to 70 percent of the proceeds.
Each of the 65 Just Between Friends franchises nationwide put on about two events a year, where participants can buy and sell baby clothing and gear. In Tulsa, Okla., the site of the original event, 1,250 consignors gathered for the fall show, founders Daven Tackett and Shannon Wilburn said.
"Families that were living pretty well are having to stretch their dollars because what they're bringing in isn't doing what it used to do," Tackett said. "This is just a smart option."