Jul 15, 2019
The corner of Neighborhood Thrift in the Tower District.

How a thrift store is giving back more than just discarded treasures

Finding value in once-treasured goods is the mission of a local thrift shop located in Fresno’s Tower District.

The efforts put forth by the Neighborhood Thrift Shop highlight the significant change a socially and environmentally conscious business could instill in a community.

The Neighborhood Thrift Shop is nestled in a small street corner. There’s a certain camaraderie in the air. On a recent Friday afternoon, customers walk, filing through clothes, furniture and toys as they ponder they’re next purchase.

Here, “one man’s trash, is another man’s treasure” is a saying with true meaning.

But what happens to the stuff that doesn’t find itself treasured? Where does that “trash” go? Where does it all go?  

Dr. Lizhu Davis, associate professor of fashion merchandising at Fresno State, researches consumer trends and believes that an intrusive environmental compromise happening now is the throwaway culture that modern consumers are taking part in.

“Because we produce so much, clothing has become disposable goods, people wear clothes only a couple of times and they throw it away,” Davis said. “And this is a big problem.”

Clothes are in burn piles in a field. Clothes are in the trash. Clothes are in the landfills. This is the product of a throwaway culture in the modern world.

“Being environmentally conscious — going green — has become a big trend, even something like organic cotton takes a lot to produce,” she added. “To be environmentally conscious, buy used, recycled, upcycled even.”

Addi Carr, a work experience coordinator, rests in a back office in the Neighborhood Thrift Store’s 20,000 sq. foot building. The big window that sits next to the door gives a view of the handbags and backpacks jumping across the racks.

“Dumping is a problem,” Carr explained as she pulled out a couple colorful leaflets with “recycle” in big blue letters.

“Textiles could be recycled, its called extracting value from items,” she added. “That’s what we do here.”

The thrift shop alone features a sales floor containing 15,000 lbs. of used items from all over Fresno County. These items that no longer mean much to the people who once wore them proudly now serve a higher purpose.

Anthony Armour serves as the executive director and founder of the “Neighborhood Industries” that make up an organization centered on the reception of used textiles and the recycling of said items.

He is found in his office situated next door to Addi’s. His office also counts on a large window and a desk covered in paperwork.

He chuckles as he jokes about calling himself the “executive coworker.” The employees call him “AP.”

Whatever his title, he relaxes into his desk chair and gets right down to business.

“The thrift store and recycling company are just two components of a larger organization,” Armour said.

The company is a cornerstone of the community. It is a socially and environmentally conscience enterprise. Armour said the business focuses not only on making sure that the textiles that are cycled out of the company are disposed of in a responsible fashion, but ultimately giving them an opportunity to become productive facets of society.

That T-shirt that may have been dumped in the donation bin last week, well it’s now allowing for someone to have a job, to pay bills, in turn stimulating a community and allowing that person to contribute to their family. 

A T-shirt that is sent for recycling typically gets a second life, such as insulation or carpet padding.

Other times, a T-shirt will find life in the hands of an unwavering hipster who digs “upcycling” and irons a vintage patch on the minuscule stain hovering over the breast pocket.

Most of all, a items like a T-shirt won’t find themselves tattered up in a landfill affecting the environment and contributing to issues associated with unsustainable dumping practices.

“Let’s create a business that could actually employ people, it started with the thrift store then branched out with the recycling company,” Armour said, “That’s when we realized like…when stuff doesn’t sell what do we do with it?”

The work of the thrift shop goes beyond housing once cherished products and selling them at generous discounts. These items go through extensive grading and cycling.

“Its an entire industry, like 35 to 40 thousands pounds of items at a time.” Armour exclaimed, “We recycle old paint rags or items that are not necessarily usable.”

The clothes, toys and furniture are all taken, analyzed and given use elsewhere. Whatever can’t be sold in the store is then taken to the recycling facility. There, it is graded, sorted and turned into something that can be useful to someone else.

Beyond the facility, however, is individuals who seek out these used items.

Armour spoke of a man who would specifically call for rags to be sent to him — getting thousands annually to use.

Armour mentioned private buyers who come in for specific brands or pieces of clothing or furniture. In turn, they give them a vintage look or restore them to their former glory and sell them at a premium.

“We have a buyer who grades all this stuff and will sell it, he’ll come in and extract all the Levis jeans, distress them, put studs, and just sell it,” Armour stated.

The thrift store and the accompanying recycling facility house thousands of items. They also employ hundreds of individuals in Fresno. Armour emphasized passionately just how important the thrift store is for not only making sure it has a positive environmental impact but also a social impact.

“We’re interested in the jobs it creates,” he said. He continued: “Essentially we are taking all these items, bringing them to south Fresno, selling them in south Fresno, and creating jobs, it’s a really unique way of stimulating a marginalized community,” Armour added. “The job is the first step in economic development.”

Along with the community development, creating an environmentally-conscious enterprise helps the thrift store bring to light the importance of being a sustainable business.

“We try to keep under 5 percent waste, we call ourselves a social enterprise,” Armour said.

From recycling material goods and placing value on mostly undervalued clothing and furniture items, this store is not only giving life back to salvaged goods but also giving life back to the neighborhood it occupies.

This story was produced for a media, communications and journalism 102w course. 

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