'Thrift' is not a bad word

A chat with the woman for whom secondhand is a way of life

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

When Holly Harris and her husband, Chuck Lamb, go on vacation, they play a little game, which is to travel on the cheap. The objective is to spend no more than $25 a day on lodging, food, and entertainment.

If that sounds impossible, it isn't for Ms. Harris, arguably one of the savviest bargain hunters in America.

Her love and knowledge of secondhand merchandise comes through in a free newspaper, Rummaging Through Northern California, which she publishes from the couple's modest home in touristy Sonoma, Calif., about 40 miles north of San Francisco.

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Harris also puts out an annual resale directory and she has a Web site - www.rummaging.com - which offers a wealth of information about all aspects of secondhand shopping.

Recently, on a quiet afternoon in her home office, Harris fielded questions about her combination avocation-occupation:

What are some of the trends you see emerging in terms of secondhand shopping?

You've got a lot more furniture, actually high-level furniture-consignment shops that look like showrooms. This market is growing rapidly because it's difficult to sell stuff out of your home, particularly furniture.

Is there still a grass-roots feeling to secondhand businesses?

Yes, I think there's a fair amount of that. Secondhand businesses are often operated by women. In children's clothing consignment, many are run by single mothers, who may be divorced. They have no career, yet want to take care of their kids and this is a way they can actually have their children with them. Also, it's easy to get into the consignment business because you don't have to put out money for inventory.

You seem to be living a pretty normal life here, which must be encouraging for people interested in changing their lifestyle.

Yes, that's what people are amazed by. "Well, she looks just like one of us," they say. It's true. Probably the only thing I buy new - and then it's usually from opened boxes, close-outs, and things like that - is computer equipment just because it's changing so rapidly and I have to have state-of-the-art equipment to publish the newspaper.

A recent issue carried an article about grocery bargains. What's the connection to secondhand purchasing?

The grocery, cosmetic, and health-aid markets are constantly doing surveys and revamping the packaging. As they do, good stuff that's on the shelves is pulled and sold at stores like the Grocery Outlets here in California. You're buying perfectly good products for 40 to 60 percent off.

Is the Internet a boon to secondhand sales?

I've started to sell some things on the Internet to get a feel for it. It's so lucrative that my husband just quit his job as the vice president of a small company [to sell online]. People who would never be caught dead at a flea market, thrift shop, or consignment shop are going on e-Bay.

Are your friends and relatives avid secondhand shoppers?

Not necessarily. My mother says, "Oh, you have better thrift shops than where I live." If you're the type of person who has to go out and buy exactly what you want when you want it, then you'll have to pay top dollar.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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