Thriftsburgh offers affordable clothing options for students at a location right on Pitt’s campus, but its employees say they have reached a low point in donations, with not enough variety to offer clothes for sale to all customers.
The student-run thrift store, located inside of the O’Hara Student Center, recently reached a low point in inventory of men’s, gender neutral and plus-size clothing. In order to rebalance its stock, Thriftsburgh has partnered with students from a new group called BASIC — short for Bringing Accessibility to Student(s) in the Community — as a part of the University’s Sustainability course, taught by instructor Ward Allebach.
BASIC was formed by five students— Bethany Brubeck, Sarah Worthington, Mandy Hooks, Jessica Sorick and Julia Koehl. According to Brubeck, a senior double major in environmental science and Spanish, they all were enrolled in the course and, as regular customers, wanted to take action on increasing diversity in Thriftsburgh’s stock.
“We started out focusing on Thriftsburgh, so accessibility to affordable clothing, and the fact that Thriftsburgh is not very accessible to some students because they don’t have a large variety in stock in terms of sizes and styles,” Brubeck said.
Thriftsburgh is open four days a week— Mondays and Fridays 2 to 7 p.m. and Tuesdays and Thursdays noon to 5 p.m. It has an average of 25 customers daily, according to Decaro. All of their items are $10 or less, with the most expensive items being jackets. They accept two forms of payment at the store — cash and Panther Funds. According to Breanna Decaro, operations manager at the store and senior urban studies major, about 15 purchases are made on an average day.
Anyone can donate clothes to Thriftsburgh during store hours, as well as place clothes in the bin in front of the store when it’s closed. It also offers store credit for donations — when something you bring in is sold, you get half of what it was worth in store credit, which doesn’t expire. People can attach a note with their name and phone number to clothes they donate when the store is closed so that they can still get credit, according to Decaro.
“I would say that it’s normal to get maybe two to three people bringing in stuff a day,” Decaro said. “But lately, I know that we’ve definitely skipped days without having donations. We normally have inventory that’s put in storage, but typically even that’s been really running low.”
Students in BASIC first spoke with Decaro’s supervisor at Thriftsburgh, Erika Ninos, since they all wanted to do something with the store for their sustainability project. According to Decaro, they originally just wanted to increase advertising for the store.
Instead of focusing on getting the word out, however, students at BASIC first focused on getting more variety for the store. A lot of the clothes Thriftsburgh gets for donations are women’s sizes 0-4 and from the same stores, such as Forever 21 and H&M.
BASIC’s goal is not just to increase the overall stock of Thriftsburgh, but to specifically get more gender inclusive and men’s clothing, as well as more sizing options. Julia Koehl, another student in BASIC and sophomore political science major, said she thinks it’s important for Thriftsburgh to sell clothing that caters to all types of students.
“It’s really cool that we have it on campus, so you don’t have to go all the way to South Side or somewhere else like that if you don’t have time,” Koehl said. “But it only really is available to a certain dynamic of students at Pittsburgh, so we want to widen that demographic of students and allow everyone to be able to go in there and find something that’s going to fit them and that they like.”
According to Decaro, the students at BASIC were very eager to help and get involved. But they realized that despite the group offering up several suggestions, not all were feasible, and both students in BASIC and those working at Thriftsburgh realized that there would be more obstacles than they anticipated.
“They had a really good idea to have a donation, dorm hall, floor by floor competition, so it would be like to see what floor on each dorm can get the most donations, and when both I and my two coworkers spoke to them about this, we thought this was a really great idea.” Decaro said. “Then when we brought it up to our supervisor, she kind of highlighted how difficult that might be and the problems we would run into.”
These problems included a history of low success with past dorm competition donations, as well as the issue of keeping track of credit for so many different individuals. Instead, they decided to place collection bins in the lobbies of different residence halls. They have bins in the WPU, O’Hara, Sutherland, Holland and all three Towers. The collection goes on until Dec. 6.
But they’ve had more success with other ideas from BASIC, such as working with fraternities to expand the amount of men’s clothing in the store. Koehl said the main role she has in BASIC is to conduct donation drives with the fraternities, as well as collecting clothing herself.
Another member of BASIC gave Koehl fraternity contacts, and a few of those organizations responded and agreed to donate clothes. Recently, Thriftsburgh has received donations from Pi Lambda Phi and Alpha Tau Omega.
This marks the first time Thriftsburgh has worked with Greek Life, and Decaro said she thinks it was beneficial to get involved with organizations they typically don’t partner with, as well as to have access to a population they don’t normally get donations from. However, she doesn’t want Thriftsburgh to just benefit from the community.
“Thriftsburgh was founded on principles of promoting both social equity and environmental sustainability on campus, right?” Decaro said. “And this would be a way that a population who is potentially underserved in the Oakland community can actually come and use something that’s beneficial to them, and help us in the way that they’re donating to us. It’s like a symbiotic relationship in that way.”
Decaro was inspired by the concept of a free store, which provides items to the community without asking for money in exchange. According to Decaro, Thriftsburgh gets a lot of items they can’t sell, either because they’re not of high enough quality or they’re not items that they sell in the store, such as briefcases, bedding and undergarments.
“So, instead of having to give those to a Goodwill and having those being turned around for profit, we were just going to have them in store, and then just let people have access to that without asking for money in exchange,” Decaro said. “But we would put a three item cap on that. I already have the inventory put aside for it, so I’m hoping before winter break definitely, we’ll have that up.”
Though making sure students are able to purchase clothing in their size and style is important to Decaro, she said she wants it to be a service for more than just the student population. Faculty and members of the community are all welcome to shop there, as well as donate.
“I just want Thriftsburgh to really be a space for everyone,” Decaro said. “I don’t want there to be a stigma around shopping at a thrift store, utilizing the free section. I want everyone to know that this is a safe space and that everyone is welcome.”