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June 18, 2012

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Few takers for charity shop goods

In the past seven years, 133 thrift shops have opened in Shanghai, accepting donated goods to sell at low prices to earn money for local charity funds.

But the idea just doesn't seem to be catching on.

At one charity store on Baotong Road in the Zhabei District, cashier Wang Hailiang sits idly behind the counter. The store gets an average 10 visitors a day, she said, and sales volume can be as low as 20 yuan (US$3).

In the southwestern part of the city, a thrift market on Xinjian Road in the Minhang District doesn't bother to open its door anymore, though the shop is not officially closed.

These are not isolated cases. Thrift shops are suffering from a shortage of donations and slack interest from shoppers.

"Charity shops in the city lack vitality, and some are not operating well," said Xie Jiachen, charity administration office director of the Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau.

From the outside, many markets look pretty much the same as any other store. Merchandise like used clothing, toys, quilts and other household goods are donated by local residents. Some commodities, such as cooking oil, rice and toothpaste, are purchased by local neighborhood committees. Money from sales in the shops is recycled back into neighborhood charity funds to help needy families, who also receive coupons allowing them to get rice and oil at these markets.

Shoppers often complain that the merchandise in thrift stores isn't very appealing.

Shao Leyun, who lives in the Shanggang residential community in Pudong New Area, said she passes by a thrift store near her apartment almost every day but has never gone in.

"There is nothing I want there," she said. "I do all my shopping at the big supermarkets."

It's true that donations limit the array and often the quality of goods sold in thrift shops. Also, Chinese people tend to look down their noses at secondhand clothing. Shao said her father once bought two sports shirts in a thrift shop but found they didn't fit well.

The products donated by people are usually cheaper than in mainstream shops, but merchandise purchased by neighborhood committees sells for about the same price as in other markets.

Lu Xuyi, who lives in Hongkou District and sometimes visits a local thrift shop, said she doesn't find much there.

"There are a few things of interest," Lu said, "But the price isn't always that competitive, so I prefer to go to regular supermarkets."

Many Chinese people have no idea about these shops. At best, they think the shops are just for poor people or needy families.

"I suppose they are only open for people who need help and only receive coupons from them," said Chen Yihua, a resident living in Yangpu District.

The charity store on Changshou Road in the Putuo District was the first to open in Shanghai in 2004.

It operates 36 collection sites for donations. It collects up to 4,000 donated items on average every month and has sales volume of about 15,000 yuan a month. That revenue covers about half of the Changshou neighborhood committee's budget to help needy people.

Although it is one of the city's best performing charity shops, its operations manager still frets about a shortfall in donations.

"I am always worried about that," Zeng said. "The problem has forced the closure of some charity markets in Shanghai, but not here yet."

City charity administrator Xie declined to say how many charity supermarkets actually have been forced to close. He said efforts will be stepped up in coming months to standardize management at the shops and try to make them more market-oriented.

Despite the somewhat dismal track record, he said he is proceeding with plans to expand the number of thrift shops to more than 200, putting one under nearly all neighborhood committees.


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