How to Start a Thrift Store Business

Learn how to start a thrift store business to make some extra money.

| January/February 1975

Thrift Store Shelves

Buying secondhand items in quantity is almost always a good idea whether or not you get any antiques as windfalls.


It's high time that someone told MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers about a truly flexible be-your-own-boss moneymaking venture ... one you can start for a small bag of jellybeans, and — with time and effort — build up to something big. I'm talking about the business that keeps my own family in winter boots, and oatmeal: a thrift store. (In a way I'm rather reluctant to give away the deep, dark secrets of how to start a thrift store business. Then again, I welcome the chance to sort out some of the public's weird beliefs about dealers in used goods.)

Our introduction to the thrift store business came about through necessity several years ago. We were living on a 40-acre tract and my husband drew around $700 a month from a lumberyard in a nearby town. Then we bought a quarter horse for our kids to use as a 4-H club project and that mare turned out to be — for us, anyhow — the world's most expensive animal. Less than a week after the papers were signed, she kicked my mate in the face with both hind feet. It was a miracle that he lived through the experience.

Once out of the hospital, our breadwinner found that the lumberyard had changed hands and the new owner had brought in his own crew. So there my husband was: no job, no strength to look for another and five mouths to poke vittles into.

At that point I suggested that we borrow $500 from the local bank, rent a cheap building, purchase a pickup load of furniture at a nearby auction and sell it ... the idea being to take the money we made, buy more stock and repeat the process. (We already had a garage full of the odds and ends I kept pouncing on at sales, fixing up and reselling elsewhere.) My husband admitted later that he thought this to be a ridiculous plan. All the same, he went along with it ... because there was nothing else in sight and you can't lose if you have nothing to start with.

Well, the bank's officers (bless 'em!) went along with the idea and loaned us the money. And we soon found a building where another thrift store business had formerly operated (a boon since many of the old firm's customers came to us). Then we got the first load of furniture and The Jungle was in business.

Now I'm not going to sit here barefaced and claim that that's all there was to our fresh start. Not at all! We suffered through days and days of sitting on our small stock and praying that somebody would buy just a dollar's worth. The store was listed as belonging to me, but my husband was able to help as his strength increased. Meanwhile he was drawing unemployment (which provided our groceries), and I clerked at an auction one night each week and spent one morning cleaning our church's rectory. There was little time to worry about whether we were on the right track or out of our ever-lovin' minds.

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