How some P.E.I. thrift stores are keeping prices affordable despite rising inflation

·3 min read
Anna MacDonald is the manager of the Salvation Army Thrift Store in Summerside. (Thinh Nguyen/CBC - image credit)
Anna MacDonald is the manager of the Salvation Army Thrift Store in Summerside. (Thinh Nguyen/CBC - image credit)

When Mary Matthews's mother opened Repeats Quality Used Family Clothing more than 20 years ago, she had the idea of having sections where people could buy clothes for $2.95 or $3.95 per item.

Today, those sections are still there, and Matthews said she doesn't plan on raising the prices in them even though her store has been impacted by higher operating costs recently, with her paying more for things like shipping and utilities.

"The expenses have gone up in every avenue," she said. "We try not to raise our prices to offset that."

Thinh Nguyen/CBC
Thinh Nguyen/CBC

In April, the inflation rate on P.E.I. was 8.9 per cent, the highest of any jurisdiction in the country. It means higher costs for many businesses like Matthews's store.

Not-for-profit thrift stores are also affected. At the Salvation Army Thrift Store in Summerside, expenses for things like heating, garbage removal and recycling have gone up considerably, said manager Anna MacDonald.

"We're holding off doing any changes to our prices. As long as we can make it work, then we will try and make it the best possible for the customer," MacDonald said.

Keeping prices affordable

Matthews said she has recently reduced the store's hours so that she's not passing on costs to her customers, and she's keeping a small staff, even though normally she'd hire more people to help with the recent increases in traffic and sales.

"Normally before COVID, we'd be open every evening. [Now,] we're just going to keep our hours shorter, so that means I don't have to staff as much," she said.

Thinh Nguyen/CBC
Thinh Nguyen/CBC

To keep prices of basic necessities affordable, some other items tend to be priced higher.

Anna MacDonald said one of the Salvation Army Thrift Store's missions is to offer things like clothes and household items at inexpensive prices.

Another mission, she said, is to offer unique items to "bargain hunters" who are not necessarily on fixed incomes but choose to go thrifting for one-of-a-kind items, ranging from high-end decor to first-edition books. These items are priced higher, she said.

"Those kinds of items can be the things that make the difference between us keeping all the low prices low, and the higher-priced items can make up for that," MacDonald said.

"If you walk in the store with $2 or $200, no one should be able to tell the difference. You can walk in and you may need two plates, we have two plates for next to nothing. But if you have $200, and you can basically buy something more expensive, then that allows us to provide things for those who really need it."

Matthews has a similar pricing strategy at Repeats.

Thinh Nguyen/CBC
Thinh Nguyen/CBC

Matthews said she often travels off-Island to find unique items for the store's vintage collection, which costs her more in terms of gas and the Confederation Bridge toll, which went up by $1.75 in January due to inflation.

Prices for these vintage items are marked up, which helps to maintain the prices in some other sections, Matthews said.

"That's what we're doing to keep the price the same," she said.

"If we can help families come in here and dress their little kids for back-to-school at maybe a fraction of the price, then we feel good about that."

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