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Chicago Vintage Shops Thriving, Researchers Say

By DNAinfo Staff on March 26, 2013 3:04pm

 Clothing racks at Knee Deep Vintage in Pilsen.
Clothing racks at Knee Deep Vintage in Pilsen.
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DNAinfo/Chloe Riley

NEAR WEST SIDE — Despite online sites that sell secondhand products, Chicago's thrift shops and vintage stores are thriving, a new study shows.


Because thrift store shoppers are after "intangible satisfactions" and not just bargains, say University of Illinois at Chicago researchers.

"The social and material experience [of thrift store shopping] can’t be recaptured when one is alone at home, slouched over the computer, trying to discern the quality of a garment on eBay,” Brenda Parker, an assistant professor of urban planning and policy at UIC, said in a news release.

Shoppers declaring "I got it on eBay," Parker said, "does not evoke the same air of mystery and treasure hunt as scoring a find in an obscure junk shop in Chicago."

Parker and fellow researcher, associate professor Rachel Weber focused on 187 secondhand shops that sold women's apparel.

Other findings on Chicago thrift shops include:

  • Of the 187, most were located in census tracts where incomes were above the city average. A map plotting the locations of Chicago's shops show that more than a dozen neighborhoods have "clusters" of five or more shops within 1,000 feet of each other. Most cluster neighborhoods are on the North and Northwest sides.
  • Many shoppers said that while they like a bargain, they also see buying secondhand as a "sustainable" endeavor "because they are recycling goods rather than using new resources or exploiting low-wage workers," the researchers found.
  • Neighborhood thrift shops do not seem to displace firsthand retail. Parker and Weber found that sales of new and used merchandise has grown at about the same rate over the past decade.
  • Indeed, secondhand shops (and sites like eBay) may actually help firsthand retail because, Weber said, "they may encourage consumers to buy more, knowing they can dispose of merchandise respectably and even for a profit.”

That development may undermine "some of the positive social and ecological benefits of thrift shopping," they said.

The research will be published in an upcoming issue of Urban Geography, an academic journal that examines issues like race, poverty and economic activity.