The name of the store says a lot. It's called Cheap. Crammed in each room are racks of old clothes, shelves of worn shoes and baskets filled with somebody else's memories. Even school letters, with a JV for Junior Varsity, are among the bargains at this second-hand store in downtown Long Beach.
"I get my best outfits from places like this," said Cindy Bebout, 23. "I can get three outfits here for what one blouse would cost (elsewhere)."
At Cheap, the atmosphere is relaxed, Bebout said. "Plus, you can bargain with them, too."
The loyal clientele at the 206 E. Broadway Ave. shop is a mixed bag, from college students and "punk-rocker types" in search of an "older look" to people who really can't afford very much, said owner Mike Greenwood.
A few doors down at Erica's Thrift, owner Erica Hamilton said her clientele includes many senior citizens who rely on the small cluster of downtown thrift shops not only for discount shopping but as meeting places. "It's like a neighborhood cafe. They go to meet their friends."
But this variation on the neighborhood cafe will be replaced by real cafes within the next couple of years, as the city puts into action its plan to revitalize downtown.
Already, the number of thrift shops has dwindled significantly. At least six have left downtown within the past few years, according to several shop owners. A cluster of four such stores and one antique shop near the Promenade and Broadway also are on their way out. The city's Redevelopment Agency plans to acquire the properties within the next year for restaurants, retail and entertainment spots, according to David Biggs, the city's development project manager. Another store on 3rd Street and Elm Avenue also sits on a block designated for new but undetermined development, Biggs said.
"We won't be here in another six months to a year," said Greenwood, who wishes the city would take one block and reserve it for stores like hers.
Gwenlisa Davis, administrator for Thrift Village, says the store has two years remaining on its lease.
"There has been a thrift store on this site for 30 years," Davis said. Thrift Village, which carries everything from worn clothes to little bags of used rubber bands for 79 cents, has been at the location for 14 years, she said.
Mostly seniors and people on welfare shop at the Village, which contracts with United Cerebral Palsy to pick up merchandise from donors, Davis said.
"We're not only helping the community but helping the cerebral palsy people," Davis said.
Thrift Village is not the only one catering to lower-income residents.
"Do you have any tennis shoes?" a man wearing one sneaker on one foot and a shoe on another asked Greenwood.
Greenwood said he did not have any tennis shoes.
"How much are these?" the man asked, lifting a pair of glossy reptile-covered, pointy shoes. "Those are $8 because it's real snake skin," Greenwood responded.
But the reptile-skin shoes did not fit, so the man walked out wearing his sneaker and mismatched shoe.
Other people come to these stores because the shops cater to patrons seeking that "older look."
Thom Cammarota, 29, is a regular at Cheap. As a singer and bass player with a '60s band called The Highlights, he goes to Cheap at least once a week and one out of every three times walks out with a prize.
Some thrift shops, especially those which are associated with charities, rely on donations. Most of the second-hand stores near Promenade and Broadway get their merchandise from estate sales and garage sales but rarely from people who walk in off the street.
The merchants say they are leery of such offerings for fear it might be stolen merchandise. Shoplifting, Hamilton said, is sometimes as common as shopping.
"Excuse me, ma'am," Hamilton, quickly walking to the door, called out to a woman who walked out of her store recently. The woman returned carrying a white blouse--still on the hangar. "I forgot this top," she said smiling as she placed it back on a rack.
"That happens all the time," Hamilton said after the woman left.