published Sunday, June 27th, 2010

Consignment flourishes in recession

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    Staff photo by Matt Fields-Johnson/Chattanooga Times Free Press Susan Perruso, the owner of Second Chance Boutique, a consignment shop on Lee highway that has been in business since 1985.

Trendsetters in retail

Paul Smith, 43

Occupation: General manager of Chattanooga Market.

Claim to fame: Has led the popular craft and food market at the First Tennessee Pavilion for three years.

Quote: "The people of Chattanooga just get the market. They understand the value of buying from local farmers, local food producers and buying affordable original artwork. We just want to provide Chattanooga with a fun and casual place to be on Sundays. I can guarantee you will run into people you know."

Victoria Meek-Underwood, 28

Occupation: owner of The Insyde Outsyde Shop

Claim to fame: Business receives weekly shipments of old English furnishings and decorator items.

Quote: "We price (items) so they are available to everyone's budget. It's a one-of-a-kind shop that is not duplicated anywhere in the South."

Tina Harrison, 47

Occupation: Owner of Blueskies

Claim to fame: Stores offers an eclectic mix of unique gifts, handcrafted artisan jewelry, and cards.

Quote: "As an independent store, we specialize in offering a great product mix and the best in personal service. We love our customers."

Susan Perruso is a trendsetter, though she's shy to admit it.

More than 25 years ago, she started a business in Chattanooga that changed the way many women shopped. She opened an upscale resale shop, the Second Chance Boutique on Dodds Avenue, which later moved to Lee Highway.

"It was a new concept to the area because we changed the image of resale from a typical thrift-store atmosphere to an upscale consignment boutique format," she said. "Customers were amazed. We put in good lighting, nice carpet, beautiful showcases and appealing window displays. We also had, and still do today, the stipulation that anything brought in had to be freshly laundered and pressed."

Women who had never been in a thrift store became regular customers in her consignment boutique, she said.

"It's because we offered, then and now, quality merchandise at a fraction of the original cost," Mrs. Perruso said. "Everything we sell is gently used or new."

The down economy has had a definite effect on the business, she said. "Our sales were up in 2009 and have increased in our first quarter of 2010," she said.

Not only have recent months seen an increase in sales, there have been a dramatic increase in the number of women bringing in fashions to sell, she said.

"We've been swamped with people bringing in things to sell," Mrs. Perruso said. "We have to turn people away. However, the increase gives us more to select from and more to offer our customers."

Inventory includes brand-name fashion, designer purses and shoes, and jewelry, she said.

Still, customers are shopping more conservatively today, Mrs. Perruso said.

"In the '90s, women would buy many things they didn't need. Today I hear customers say things like, 'I want the skirt, but I need the coat.' They buy the coat. They're focusing on what they need instead of what they want."

Mrs. Perruso said she believes consignment and resale shops will always be around.

"I hope I'm still working here 10 years from now," she said. "I hope that it keeps going. I think the consignment/resale industry is here to stay."

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about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

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