DEMISE OF THE CHARITY SHOP
Why have they lost their quirky individuality?
THERE WAS a time – several years ago now – when I felt compelled to enter every single charity shop that came my way. To walk on by was out of the question. The thought of all those bargains I would fail to have the opportunity to purchase was just too much to bear. This addiction affected my relationships, but I didn’t care: I was only interested in feeding my habit. I now find, to my surprise, that I am cured. Without making any effort at all, I have given up frequenting charity shops.
I think my interest first started to wane about six years ago when Mary Portas, ‘Queen of Shops’, was brought in to revamp the Orpington branch of Save the Children in order to make a TV series. In an attempt to rid the shop of its shabby image, she successfully robbed it of its quirky individuality. Soon all Save the Children charity shops had stripped-pine floors, shabby-chic decor and dimmed lighting. Other charity shops, thinking that this was the way to go, followed the trend. In the blink of an eye, Aladdin’s caves all across the country were transformed into boring homogeneity.
Unfortunately the quality of the donated goods failed to live up to this rebranding. If anything, they became more predictable: cheap chain-store clothes, tired polycotton bed linen; dog-eared paperbacks by the likes of James Patterson, Danielle Steel and Dan Brown; shelves of dubious ornaments, DVDS, jigsaws and board games (usually including Trivial Pursuit and Pictionary), baskets of mugs, some stained and chipped, cardboard boxes of picture frames, and a selection of toiletries. The boxed sets of shower gel and body lotion would be unwanted Christmas gifts and the smaller items freebies taken from hotels. So far, so undesirable.
In addition to all this, charity shops started branching out into the field of new merchandise, often selling their own branded goods. Oxfam specialises in Fairtrade coffee and chocolate bars, ecofriendly cleaning agents and gifts made by women’s groups in the Third World. All this does is make the charity shop more like an ordinary shop. If I want to buy Fairtrade stuff, I can go to the Co-op.
Another factor contributing to my disillusionment with the charity shop is the internet. ‘The internet’s ruined everything!’ you will hear former devotees mutter among themselves, and they have a point. Some charity shops now have an online presence, selling their more interesting items via the worldwide web. It is also claimed that people who might previously have donated goods are now feeling more hard pressed for cash and so put their unwanted items on ebay. And charity shop staff complain that some customers buy from them solely for the purpose of selling on. Charity shops have responded to this challenge by price-checking their goods on relevant internet sites. These new, savvy charityshop workers have started labelling their slightly better items of clothing as ‘designer’, and anything at all that is slightly old-fashioned as ‘vintage’, ‘retro’ or ‘collectable’.
So the heyday of the charity shop is over. More time to devote to useful activity, like writing articles about their demise. For the purpose of writing this piece, I did, of course, have to do some research: I revisited the charity shops in my local area. I returned with a pair of cerise jogging bottoms (£3), a beige cardigan (£2), a gadget that tells me when my boiled egg is cooked to my satisfaction (20p), a hot water bottle (£2) and a hardback copy of T S Eliot’s The Cocktail Party bearing a stamp stating that it is the property of Moseley Hall County Grammar School, Cheadle, Cheshire (£1). I resisted the temptation to buy the Westclox travelling alarm clock, circa 1960 (£3.99) and the Dryad candle-making starter kit (£2.95), thereby saving myself £6.94. Did I say I was cured?
In the blink of an eye, Aladdin’s caves across the country were transformed into boring homogeneity
A treasure trove no longer: Oxfam shop in London