Thrift Shopping During COVID-19

What was once a fun errand, is now a trigger for fear.

Thrift stores, the go-to establishment for discounted items, have been all the rage in recent years. Attracted to the rush of finding an “old to them, but new to me” staple piece for their wardrobe, many people found great satisfaction thrifting before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

21-year-old Ezana Dejene enjoyed discovering classic pieces at a reduced price.

“Everything is super cheap and you find so many hidden gems,” said Dejene. “You can find vintage stuff. That aesthetic, vintage and retro looks, thrift stores have that kind of look and it’s authentic.”

Establishments across Michigan shutdown as the state prepared for the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. Resale shops made the list of businesses ordered to close their stores to customers. 

In June, stores were allowed to reopen as part of Governor Whitmer’s “MI Start Safe” plan, but some were still uneasy about purchasing items previously owned by someone else. 

Paige Lamb, a 22-year-old Michigander who is weary about trying on clothes in the store, takes safety measures to protect herself from any unwanted health concerns.

“I always wash my clothes one to two times before I start wearing them. I leave them in the bag before I wash them and don’t touch them until one day after buying them, said Lamb. “I’m pretty cautious.”

Others, like Dejene, feel confident that they can thrift shop safely without coming into contact with COVID-19.

“They are hand-me-downs, true, but they’ve been sitting there for a while and the likelihood that thrifting is any more dangerous than your standard department store is low,” said Dejene. 

Dejene isn’t far off. Experts say there is little proof of COVID-19 lasting on soft material.

“So far, evidence suggests that the virus does not survive as well on a soft surface (such as fabric) as it does on frequently touched hard surfaces,” according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Typically isolated, stand alone shops, discount stores exist outside of large shopping centers. With a smaller area, there’s a smaller number of people to be accounted for.

“I’d have more fear about walking around a mall where there are more people who might have COVID,” said Dejene.

Resale shopping is an intimate experience for many thrifters. Unlike regular department stores, secondhand shops require customers to sift through items of different sizes, colors, and brands to make sure the quality is up to par and worth purchasing. 

Lamb, who keeps her personal belongings out of reach while shopping, says precautions keep her fears at bay. 

“My phone is usually in my pocket, not being touched, and I make a huge effort not to touch my face,” Lamb explained. “I really only touch the clothes and my wallet when I get to the counter to pay. Once I get in the car, I immediately sanitize my hands and wallet.”

Michiganders interested in thrifting can protect themselves by maintaining a safe distance from other customers, abiding by the mask mandate, wearing gloves while shopping, and carrying some form of disinfectant spray.

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