Though sophomore Vanessa Colihan waited outside the O’Hara Student Center Friday morning for the University of Thriftsburgh’s second birthday celebration to begin, she wasn’t shopping for a new outfit.
“I was specifically looking for cotton t-shirts. It’s easy to cut them into yarn and crochet things out of it,” the computer engineering major said. “I got a bunch at the back-to-school sale too.”
The University of Thriftsburgh — a thrift store run by and for students housed on the first floor of the O’Hara Center — celebrated its second birthday Friday afternoon during its semi-annual dollar sale in the Dining Room for more than 200 students. Surrounded by balloons, bead necklaces and birthday hats, shoppers ate free cupcakes and assorted snacks while listening to live DJing by WPTS radio.
According to one of Thriftsburgh’s co-founders, Anna Greenberg, the dollar sale is when the store collects its out-of-season and unsold inventory and sells it all for $1 each.
“Anything we don’t sell from the dollar sale is what’s been in the store for a long time or is somewhat lower quality, so we typically donate it to Goodwill,” Greenberg said.
Some customers don’t mind the imperfections of secondhand clothes, like Colihan, who paid for her purchase with store credit she earned by donating clothing of her own to the shop.
“There’s a big problem with clothing waste,” Colihan said. “I want to do more to help that.”
Thriftsburgh began as part of a group project between Greenberg and fellow co-founder Paul Heffernan as a way to make life on campus more sustainable. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 10.5 million tons of clothing end up in landfills each year and, according to the Council for Textile Recycling, only 15 percent of textiles produced are donated.
The low price of purses, jewelry, clothing and shoes at the sale surprised customers, who repeatedly asked for confirmation that it was all $1.
The store leaders invited fellow sustainability-minded campus groups to celebrate with them, and set up tables in the lobby for Student Office of Sustainability organizations such as the Pitt Pantry, Take Back the Tap, Plant to Plate and the Pitt Bicycle Collective to promote their work. The Pitt Green Fund — a student-run organization that supports environmentally conscious projects on Pitt’s campus which Thriftsburgh donates $3,000 to yearly — was also present.
Ruby Walker, a junior social work and English writing major, came to the sale looking for a purse but left with two, plus several articles of clothing.
“All the stuff is donated by students, so it’s a little more fashionable,” Walker said. “There’s a lot of stuff here that’s even brand new with tags.”
The store now plans to work over the summer collecting items other than clothes as well, such as small furniture and appliances in an effort to eliminate move-out waste on campus.
As the shop grows older, Board Coordinator Forest Goebel, a sophomore studying human resources, notices fewer first-time customers and more who come in week to week. Many of these “regulars” attended the birthday celebration, bringing their own reusable bags and accumulating pile-sized purchases.
The store’s management recognizes that quality affects whether someone will want to buy certain items, said Thriftsburgh Social Media Coordinator Emily Messer.
Messer — a junior majoring in history and philosophy of science — said a local tailor recently offered them a sewing machine for repairs, which now sits behind the register in the store.
“All of us workers are more than capable of fixing these little things in the clothes, so we want to pass on that knowledge,” Messer said. “We’re trying to get a sewing station together so people can mend and hem their own clothes.”
Greeting regulars by name was Thriftsburgh’s store coordinator, Maura Kay, a junior urban studies major. Kay shared fashion advice with customers as she handled the register.
“The dollar sale is kind of my bread and butter,” Kay said. “I collect throughout the rest of the year, [doing] a lot with inventory and the actual physical store.”
Oakland resident Isis Tarot has supported Thriftsburgh since opening day on March 18, 2015. Dressed in green from head to toe for St. Patrick’s Day, Tarot browsed the sale during its first hour, filling three reusable bags tied around her waist with clothes.
“I’m always scavenging, I’ve been doing it as a hobby for a long time,” Tarot said. “Sustainability is way cool.”
Maggie Medoff contributed reporting.