BREVARD PICKERS: ‘Never Pay Retail Again’
By Pamela Worsham // April 18, 2012
BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – Never pay retail again. Those are the words many in Brevard shop by.
Whether through yard sales, thrift stores, estate sales, flea markets, pawn shops or at church bazaars, a substantial portion of shoppers on the Space Coast say they would rather seek bargains in alternative ways than buy from commercial establishments.
For Andi Piazza, that philosophy is a way of life.
The successful Stargram entertainment agency owner prides herself in many of the treasures she’s uncovered while shopping in some of the area’s thrift stores.
She’s not cheap, stingy, or even a penny pincher. On the contrary, she’s a value shopper who only needs a cup of coffee to get her going on her weekly thrifty rounds.
“It all started with my mom who by no means was poor. She had money,” Piazza saisd. “Her philosophy was ‘I don’t mind spending money, but I want to spend it on things that are meaningful to me.’ For her thrift store shopping was an adventure.
“I agree. The way I see it, there are some things that just make no sense buying new.”
And though most of the items she buys are for personal use she has come across some good investments.
One of her best purchases was buying a painting of St. Peter for $300, which she turned around and sold to an auction house for $5,500.
Piazza is very particular of the things she will and won’t buy at a thrift store. Hats, bathing suit, and undergarments are no-no’s but she gives thumbs up to furniture, toys, clothing, and patio furniture.
“I was talking to a friend of mine the other day and she says ‘Ewe, you shop at thrift stores.’ Yes, I do,” Piazza said, laughing. “I just really enjoy it and think it’s really fun. I especially love finding something that is quality or that I know is expensive and that was gently used.”
The other factor that shapes Piazza’s spending habits at thrift stores is if they benefit a non-profit.
She’s a regular at Daily Bread and Molly Mutt because the funds they raise through sales go towards helping the homeless and the Humane Society.
“You know if you’re spending money at those stores it’s going to a good cause so I’m more likely to want to shop there,” Piazza said.
Like Piazza, many customers around town help propel thrift stores to the top of the second-hand shop hierarchy. One of the area’s oldest thrift stores proved to be so popular it had to open up a second location.
Since 1969 CITA (Christ Is The Answer) has helped over 3,000 homeless individuals annually thanks in part to the donations and sales that go through their stores.
They don’t rely on any federal funds and raise enough money to pay 14 people on payroll, insurance, and utilities. They also fund three programs that help provide guidance to transients, addicts, and homeless job hunters.
But as much as CITA President Danny Ellison would like to think their thrift stores are supported for the mission they serve he believes most of their success is due to the economics of bargain shopping.
“That’s what happens when one person finds a deal here. They say ‘Aw man, I’ll go back over there.’ So I would say 90 percent are just looking for a good deal, maybe 10 percent shop with us because of who we help,” Ellison said.
Susie Morris, co-chairperson of Satellite Beach’s The Haven Lamb Shoppe for Children, agrees that most customers at her store aren’t aware of all the children they’re helping with their purchase.
“When I cashier in the front I ask them ‘Do you know what the Haven is?’ and most of them say no. They just like going to thrift shops,” Morris said.
The Haven helps care for children that have been removed from their homes because of abuse, neglect, and abandonment.
Currently the organization has three homes used to serve an average of 31 children.
And with the challenges a tough economy has brought about, Morris said she feels sales at the Lamb Shoppe will continue to increase.
“People like to thrift and I mean they do it religiously. For them I would like to get a bunch of the area thrift stores together on a brochure map to give out around town. I think it will help all of us. It’s in my long-range plans,” Morris said.
But Brevard’s value shoppers aren’t just limited to thrift stores.
Just ask pawn shop regular Nicholas Sanzone. He prefers those stores because they carry merchandise he feels he can’t get at other places like VHS tapes, comic books and power tools.
“I also go get golf balls. You can get a good deal there. A big bag costs $2 where as you would pay $8 at a store,” Sanzone said.
He also credits pawn shops with helping him finesse the art of haggling. He appreciates the ones that meet him halfway in his price offer and frowns on those that leave no room for negotiation.
“They’re not Target or Wal-Mart. I understand they’re not going to go all the way down to my price, but that’s what haggling is. I would like to see more pawn shops be open to that,” Sanzone said.
And unlike thrifting, which requires patience and quite an investment of browsing time, Sanzone said he likes that most pawn shops specialize in specific merchandise.
On his last great purchase, a $10 jigsaw which usually retails for about $30, he saved time and money because he knew which pawn shop to go to for tools.
Charles Fouche, owner of Beach Pawn Shop in Cape Canaveral, thinks the best deals can be found in pawn shops as long as the customer can account for regional differences.
Since his store is located beachside, he has a good inventory of items the community finds popular.
“A surfboard on the beach has a lot more value than a surfboard in Orlando and vice versa. I also field daily calls about metal detectors,” Fouche said.
He said he believes that bargaining is part of the winning formula behind his store, now in its 36th year.
“We always leave room to negotiate because I’m dealing in used retail. That’s a broad brush to paint something with,” he said.
Usually negotiating is something that Palm Bay garage sale enthusiast Dragon Slayer would agree with, but not when he’s the seller.
He prides himself in pricing things to sell right from the beginning.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time and see people price their stuff for outrageous money. Then at the end of the day they’re bringing their stuff back in saying ‘Oh, I wonder why this didn’t sell?’ Well look at your prices, stupid,” he said. “When my stuff hits the driveway it’s got to go, it’s not coming back inside the house.”
And though he has about nine garage sales under his belt, it’s the endless miles in 30 years of garage sale shopping that give him the most gratification.
Her said his proudest moment was when he bought a $1,000 Bradley and Hubbard lamp for $65.
Dragon Slayer continues to find deals like this because he’s got his routine down pat and knows how to design his garage sale plan of attack.
He reads the garage sale ads on craigslist and if they start off with describing children’s clothes or toys he moves on. He’s also particular of things he finds beachside because he believes if it’s not kept inside, the salt water in the air ruins it.
His biggest tip to both garage sale sellers and buyers is to know your prices.
“I’m a comparison shopper and that’s the biggest thing you can do. Know what things retail for and you can deal better from there,” he said.
For single mother Angela Myers of Titusville, yard sales have helped provide clothing for her children inexpensively.
“I have three small kids and keeping them in clothes takes a toll on my budget,” Myers said. “I work in fast-food and I don’t make that much to begin with, so finding used clothes for my kids at yard sales is a godsend.”
Myers said she pays a fraction of what the clothes would have cost her new in stores and the quality of what she buys is pretty good too.
“Many of these clothes are for sale because the child who had them simply outgrew them,” she said. “I just would not be able to afford to keep my kids in clothes that fit if it wasn’t for yard sales, church rummage sales or community garage sales.”
On March 17, garage sale enthusiasts from all over the county had the opportunity to wheel and deal on a community wide grand scale at the “Third annual Satellite Beach Rummage Sale.”
Residents sold their oldies but goodies outside the David R. Schechter Community Center and maps were given out with the addresses of the more than 50 residents who hosted garage sales at their homes to coincide with the event.
Satellite Beach recreation programmer Louise Stevenson said she has received so much positive feedback from this event she predicts it will be an annual affair for years to come.
“It’s not hard to plan and really it’s just a nice community service. People are trying to earn a little extra money and why not get rid of some of your stuff at the same time?”