Safe to thrift? Some stores move online after decline in donations, shoppers


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Thrift stores and donation-based retailers are seeing a decrease in shoppers and donations, as people take precautions against the spread of COVID-19.

While vintage T-shirts or re-purposed household items may not be “essential,” the services that many of these stores help support could take a hit.

The drop in foot traffic was enough for thrift stores benefiting Austin Pets Alive! to close their doors.

“It was pretty drastic,” APA! Retail Operations Manager Derrick Ernst said. “It was basically a wake-up call of how much we rely on traffic and return from the donations. People’s fear of going out, especially to thrift stores — we felt like that’s why we saw a decline altogether.”

They have stopped accepting donations, for now.

But on Monday they moved their operations online through sites like eBay and Etsy, so customers still shop and support the shelter.

“All the life-saving missions that the shelter is doing, the thrift stores help fund that through all the net proceeds,” said, encouraging people to log-on and shop.

Salvation Army Administrator Captain Brett Cundiff said in a statement, “We are in desperate need of clothing and household goods.”

He said it was helpful that most people were putting donations outside for pick-up.

“Our trucks are still running, but the drivers and helpers are taking extra precautions like gloves, and frequent sanitizing, and washing,” he said.

As of Monday, all their donation spots and all four of their stores were open for regular hours, but they were seeing considerably less customers.

A spokesperson for Goodwill Central Texas said they are allowed to keep their stores open, but with modified hours, after a stay-at-home order was mandated in Austin on Tuesday.

“We still serve essential function by funding mission services and providing supplies to marginalized members of the community,” the spokesperson said.

They said they are instituting social distancing measures in-store and are asking donors to take out and leave donations on the ground outside of drop sites to reduce interaction with their Donation Door Attendants.

They have seen a drop in donations for this month, but said they are thankful for the amount still coming in.

“Every time you shop or donate with Goodwill, you are driving integral funds that empower people through education, training, and work,” the spokesperson said. “We will see an even greater need for these services once the crisis is over.”

How long can the virus survive on surfaces?

Ernst said the APA! team understands shoppers’ hesitations about touching or buying thrift items.

“Not knowing how long it can last on clothing or any articles of clothing, it was a concern,” he said. “That was the forefront of conversation of whether we should or shouldn’t continue taking donations.”

According to the World Health Organization, “It is not certain how long the virus that causes COVID-19 survives on surfaces, but it seems to behave like other coronaviruses. Studies suggest that coronaviruses (including preliminary information on the COVID-19 virus) may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. This may vary under different conditions (e.g. type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment).

A new study from National Institutes of Health, CDC, UCLA and Princeton University found the virus that causes the coronavirus disease can stay on surfaces for several hours, or in some cases a few days. The study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, found the virus was detectable:

  • In aerosols for up to three hours
  • On copper for up to four hours
  • On cardboard up to 24 hours
  • On plastic and stainless steal for up to two or three days

APA! told KXAN they are staying updated on the latest CDC guidance and disinfecting the items.

Plus, Ernst said from the time an item is donated to when it reached a customer, there was usually sevens days or more in between. He said some of their inventory had been in-store much longer.

“By that time… coronavirus will not actually be on the item,” he said.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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