On one side of the aisle is an old Bob Marley T-shirt. On the other side of the aisle is a VHS tape of “The Adventures of Timothy the Tooth.”
Leaning in the corner is a little 6-foot bathroom door still with the towel bar screwed to its back.
“What is this,” said an intrigued Lisa Ehinger, “a hobbit door?”
Better yet, what is this place?
Answer: A booming business.
Sales at Lawrence Antique Mall, 830 Mass., were up nearly 30 percent in 2009, said owner Larry Billings. Thus far, 2010 sales are topping 2009’s totals.
“I think people are definitely taking a second look at buying used,” Billings said. “But they’re not buying the old traditional antiques. The entire industry is moving away from that. It is going toward people buying old, usable things.”
Salvation Army store
The market has taken notice. By early April, The Salvation Army plans to open an 18,000-square-foot “Family Super Store” along West 23rd Street in the shopping center that houses the Perkins restaurant.
The store will deal in used merchandise ranging from furniture, electronics, household goods and books, said Capt. Troy Barker, who will oversee the Lawrence store along with The Salvation Army’s stores in Kansas City.
“I can tell you that the thrift store business is booming,” Barker said. “I would say across the board that business is up 10 to 15 percent. We have one store where sales are up close to 40 percent.”
Like many thrift shops — although not like antique malls — The Salvation Army will stock its store with items donated to the organization. The Salvation Army previously had a store near 19th and Massachusetts until 2005, when the property was redeveloped into a video rental store.
Unlike at that location, Barker said the new store will rely solely on Lawrence donations, and items donated at the Lawrence store won’t be shipped back to Kansas City. The new store — which will have 13 full-time employees — also will be about twice as large as the previous store.
Profits from the store will go to support The Salvation Army’s homeless shelter operations in Kansas City, Mo., and its drug and alcohol treatment programs.
“We have always thought the Lawrence market had a lot to offer, being a major college town,” Barker said. “We have looked at two or three other places in Lawrence in the past but never felt good about reopening until this location came along.”
On the hunt
Kendra Davis, assistant manager of the Social Service League Thrift Store, 905 R.I., said she thought the town likely would be able to absorb the new store.
“We’ve been seeing a lot of people come in, and from a more diverse background,” Davis said. “It is not just low-income people anymore.”
The reason is obvious. As one retailer might say: Every day low prices.
Davis said dresses often are sold anywhere from $2 to $8. Coats can be had for less than $20 in some stores. If used clothing isn’t your thing, the businesses are beginning to sell more durable items, too.
A Stanley hammer for $4.25. An off-brand, but fairly modern, set of golf clubs and bag for $15. A nearly new children’s bike for $35. And if you need something to help you take the edge off a sputtering economy: A solid wood bar, complete with bar stools, a six-disc CD changer and a bar fridge for $265. If you want the Stroh’s electric fireplace, that will be another $79.
“There are a lot of savings to be had,” Barker said. “I would say the average family of four is spending $2,000 to $2,400 per year on clothing. We can probably reduce that by 80 to 90 percent.”
But it requires a different type of shopping. Items often aren’t categorized well, and veterans say shoppers should be prepared to hunt.
Ehinger, who made the trip in from Overland Park to shop at the Antique Mall, said that’s fine because she thinks many people are ready for a new type of mindset.
“I think people really are trying to be frugal today,” Ehinger said. “They’ve lived a life full of disposable items for so long that maybe now they are realizing they aren’t so disposable.
“Plus, it is just fun. You can come to a place like this and walk by something and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I used to have that.’”
Well, maybe not the Stroh’s fireplace.