Thrift stores, the day after

by Walter Olson on February 11, 2009

The Houston thrift shop in the video above is by no means alone. Elsewhere in the country, many resale stores are either closing their children’s sections entirely or drastically curtailing the line of goods they carry. Among them is Goodwill of Kansas (press release):

Painted toys and clothing with metal clasps or fasteners — including blue jeans, coats and hooded jackets for children 12 and younger — were pulled from store shelves Monday night, said Gayle Goetz, vice president of development for Goodwill Industries Easter Seals of Kansas.

The move affects 14 Goodwill stores in Kansas, including three in Wichita and one in Maize.

“We kept hoping we’d get some guidance, so we waited,” Goetz said. “We had our legal committee look at it last night and determined that there’s just too much liability.”

Half the supply of children’s clothing is gone at Omaha-area Goodwill for similar reasons (KPTM video).

At the same time, many other thrift stores nationwide are for the moment proceeding with business as usual, leaving kids jeans’, plastic playthings, pre-1985 books and other suspect items on the shelves, whether because they are breezier about taking on risks of liability, because they are unfamiliar with the law, or because they figure its terms are too irrational to actually be enforced. And even when they are withdrawing items from sale, some, like Goodwill of Kansas, are placing them into storage in the expectation that Congress will see reason (insert joke of choice here) and act to change the law soon.

Others, especially stores that specialize in kids’ resale, are thinking of closing their doors because of CPSIA or have already done so. “I have everything to lose,” said owner Kasey Brown in Ionia, Mich., who closed her Hey Baby Boutique a few days ago. (See also Maine and Arkansas items from our recent 50-state roundup).

One presumably unintended consequence will be to deprive nonprofit community and religious groups of millions of dollars in revenue with which they had pursued worthy causes. In the Charlotte area alone, kids’ resale at Goodwill is a $2 million business that supports job-training programs, the local director says. In an Indiana newspaper, a Salvation Army source is quoted as saying that the CPSIA blow could wipe out more than 16,000 places in drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs supported by the stores.

In Bend, Oregon, according to ABC affiliate KOHD, consignment store Stone Soup decided to take the unusual step of screening its stock for lead using the X-ray fluorescence method. It cost $1,500 a week to rent the equipment, 30 percent of tested items failed (lots of zippers, rhinestones and skateboards out there with lead content), and the store found itself having to fill out scads of paperwork since each failure had to be reported to Washington under the law’s defect-notification provision.

In his stump speech five years ago, presidential candidate John Edwards (as Alex Tabarrok noted at the time) was

fond of empathizing with the plight of a 10-year old girl “somewhere in America,” who goes to bed “praying that tomorrow will not be as cold as today, because she doesn’t have the coat to keep her warm.”

As John Tierney of the New York Times countered, however, whatever real economic problems America had in 2004, children going without serviceable winter clothes because their parents lacked money was not high on the list: “The second-hand children’s coats that remain in America typically sell for about $5 in thrift shops.”

Way to solve that problem, Congress.

More: Thrift-store shutdowns in Florida and Kansas, “truckloads” removed from Goodwill stores in Louisiana, shelf-clearings and disruptions in Virginia, upstate New York and Waco, Texas. Tucson resaler Casa de los Ninos reports taking a $70,000 hit from inventory suddenly rendered worthless. That can’t be easy to incorporate into the economics of running such a place, but maybe the owner can just go without taking a salary for a year or two. I’m sure some CPSIA proponents will say it’s his own fault for not informing himself better about the law in advance.

{ 6 trackbacks }

Unintended consequences from trying to ‘do good’ « Whispers
02.11.09 at 1:15 pm
CPSIA chronicles, February 13
02.14.09 at 12:50 pm
patrick stephens at psjs.net » Hidden costs
02.16.09 at 10:55 am
New York Times on CPSIA: “needless fears that the law could injure smaller enterprises”
02.18.09 at 11:43 am
Meta: “Lead” does not mean what you think it does, CPSC « Joyful Molly
02.22.09 at 11:31 am
Bureaucrash - Join the Resistance » Blog Archive » Government Regulation and Small Businesses
03.12.09 at 9:02 am

{ 4 comments }

1 Tristan Benz 02.11.09 at 1:41 pm

This has drastically impacted my business – I don’t see the sense in XRF testing at this point in time when a) lead limits will be going down come August and b) I’ll still require 3rd party testing.

With handmade products (and so many varieties offered), we do not stock items or make them in “bulk” – I may be misinformed, but if “lot” means each “batch” then I assume I have test everything?!

Our price points are simply not high enough to support testing if our products were limited to 5 items, produced in “lots” of larger numbers and at the expense of 3rd party testing (ultimately, what is required).

As I’m also concerned about the “deeper” implications of a law that is WAY too broad, I’ve gone the route of trying to fight this law – my homepage is now host to a bold message – what I, personally, feel I have been forced to do, on principle, on behalf of the business I started, ironically, to help put PARENTS and MOTHER APPROVED back into the “driver’s seat” in the marketplace.

As a mother of three young children, I want a less toxic world – but is this the way to go about it? Already, we don’t use toxic glues, we hire moms / military wives and are a pro-parent / pro-childhood company – while we can easily replace Swarovsk crystal with other, non-leaded varieties, it’s not enough to solve the bigger problems caused by this law.

On the flip side – as a consumer and a mom – the “overkill” of this law means I no longer have the RIGHT to choose even a donated rag quilt from a local church rummage sale (that isn’t tested because small producers can’t afford to!).

I’m beside myself. While I’ve been strong in trying to fight this, I talk with retailers that are already saying, “well, it’ll be okay by next year…” – I think they truly don’t understand the law at all and keep sending them to your very informative website.

It’s a sad day, as a mom in America. We’ve worked so hard to have even the right to vote – and now, we don’t have the right to choose what products to support and to exercise our authority anymore.

Thanks for your update.
Tristan Benz
Maiden America

2 PhilG 02.11.09 at 2:23 pm

Given that Congress has screwed up the CPSIA law so badly, what does that say about the ability of Congress to pass a stimulus bill that is effective and not simply a waste of taxpayer money?

3 Kathy McClaren 02.11.09 at 7:37 pm

Oh my, oh my. What have we come to, we penalize poor folks and retired folks and low income folks, over and over. I would like to believe that I can continue to get grandkids clothes, and toys, and games for a decent price. And recycle items and go to thrift stores, garage sales and rummage sales and find good quality, used children’s items without messing with my budget. I will write my congress persons, and hope you will do so too.

4 James Wilson 02.12.09 at 2:23 pm

Thank you for the great work you’ve done in this area. DownsizeDC.org has launched a campaign to repeal the CPSIA:
https://secure.downsizedc.org/etp/campaigns/110

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