Thrift shops offer designer, vintage clothes at discount prices

At Clothes Encounter, donated clothes are sorted and steamed and only items in near-perfect condition make it to the racks. PHOTO BY JESSICA PIPER

“Have you ever shopped here?” Bonnie Copper asks as we walk into Blue Hill’s Turn-Style Thrift Shop. “Well, you’re going to after this.”

At first glance, Turn-Style (23 South St., Blue Hill) looks like any other apparel shop. Customers flick through racks searching for the right style or color; baby clothes occupy one corner and teen styles another. Take a closer look, however, and notice that nothing has a price tag. Instead, the prices are listed on a laminated card near the register: $8 for jackets, $6 for dresses, $4 for sweaters or bathing suits. Kid’s clothing costs even less.

Nationally, the secondhand shopping industry generates roughly $17 billion in revenue each year, according to the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops. In Hancock County, several small thrift shops grant shoppers the chance to find big discounts — and give back to the local community.

Turn-Style, for example, is the main source of funding for the neighboring Tree of Life Food Pantry, which serves the Blue Hill Peninsula. The shop is run by roughly 70 volunteers, a mixture of older residents and local students who are tasked with sorting clothing, arranging racks and manning the cash register.

Dresses on the rack at Turn-Style in Blue Hill.

Copper, the organization’s volunteer coordinator, is a longtime thrift shopper herself.

“It lets me get something that’s maybe not my style, because it’s so inexpensive,” she said.

Low prices are found at similar stores across the county. At Clothes Encounter (34 Water St., Ellsworth), some items cost as little as 50 cents. A pair of cowboy boots in the window is priced at $10, while many shirts and dresses are sold for just a few dollars.

Owner Suzanne Wood, who founded the shop along with Kristin Brown in 2013, noted that the benefits of secondhand shopping are more than just lower prices.

“People always say they’re excited to find things that are already broken in,” she said.

Faux-snakeskin heels on display at Clothes Encounter.

A longtime thrift shopper herself, she added that the store is much more than somebody’s leftover wardrobe. Donated clothes are sorted and steamed and only items in near-perfect condition make it to the racks, while others are set aside for refurbishment or recycling.

“We try to be a little more upscale, but also keep it affordable,” Wood said.

Upscale items can likewise be found around the corner at 2nd to None (112 Main St., Ellsworth). The secondhand shop currently has a pair of Giorgio Armani heels on the rack, which originally retailed for $800. Owner Lass King priced them at $40 instead.

King, whose parents once owned the Grasshopper Shop in Ellsworth, noticed the appeal of secondhand shopping while managing the former gift shop.

“A lot of the girls that worked for me would come over to this store and buy great stuff,” she said.

Designer purses are available for discount prices at 2nd to None.

When 2nd to None’s former owners put the shop on the market seven years ago, she decided to buy and run the place. Over the years, she has often been surprised by customers’ innovation in creating new outfits.

“People put things together in ways I never would have thought of,” she said.

She also has found that Mainers often prefer practical clothing. North Face and Patagonia are some of the shop’s bestselling brands.

Both 2nd to None and Clothes Encounter rely on donations from the community, and accordingly give back by donating a portion of their profits. Clothes Encounter gives to Healthy Acadia in support of farm-to-table programs and FoodCorps, while 2nd to None supports the SPCA of Hancock County.

At Turn-Style, Copper noted that some thrift shop customers also use the food pantry.

The shop attracts visitors of all ages. Copper recalled that, several years ago, Turn-Style was receiving many pairs of torn jeans. Older volunteers thought the pants couldn’t be used, but high school students explained that the “distressed” style was intentional — and popular.

She added that some regular customers come in each week to see what’s new on the racks.

“You can count on finding something stylish,” Copper said.