www.baltimoresun.com/business/bs-bz-uptown-cheapskate-20110718,0,2535344.story

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High-end consignment shops draw frugal shoppers

Low prices attract shoppers seeking designer fashions

By Andrea K. Walker, The Baltimore Sun

8:35 PM EDT, July 18, 2011

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Nancy Kline learned all about retail during a three-decade career at South Moon Under, the trendy boutique chain where, she jokes, she held just about every job except president.

Now, she and daughter Emily Schramm, who also worked at South Moon Under, are bringing their retail know-how to a new venture that will focus on cheap — their word — but high-end designer fashion.

The pair is set to open Uptown Cheapskate, a 4,000-square-foot consignment store in Timonium, on Tuesday. They opened another location of the consignment store franchise in Salisbury last year.

Uptown Cheapskate's opening comes as the resale business, which includes consignment and thrift shops, is booming, with consumers who have cut back on spending and are looking for bargains.

Consignment involves letting a retailer sell shoppers' clothes in exchange for a portion of the profits. Uptown Cheapskate will give customers a percentage of what they think the merchandise is worth before it sells.

Net sales at resale stores increased 12.7 percent from 2008 to 2009, the most recent figures available, according to the Association of Resale Professionals.

"Whenever there is a slow economy this industry thrives," said Adele R. Meyer, executive director of the group. "Our numbers are doing really well."

The consignment business also appeals to people concerned with the environment because the clothes are recycled rather than thrown away, Meyer and consignment store owners said.

Sales at the 25 retail stores run by Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake Inc. have risen about 5 percent over last year, according to the organization. Goodwill stores are thrift shops where people donate clothes and don't get a percentage of the proceeds after they are sold.

Newbury & Smith in Mount Washington, a consignment shop that specializes in high-end merchandise, also has seen an increase in customers, said manager Joyce Newsome.

"Everybody is looking for that break," Newsome said.

When consignment store Fashion Attic opened more than seven years ago in Fells Point, hardly any other such stores existed in the area. But they have sprouted up in recent years, said Fashion Attic manager Meghan Rockwood. The website baltimoreconsignment.com lists 30 consignment stores in the Baltimore region.

Rockwood said the renewed interest in consignment shopping has been good for business.

"It's nice because when people want to do consignment they want to be able to visit many different stores," Rockwood said.

Tom Gentry, a sales director at Goodwill of the Chesapeake, said that high-end products are the most popular items at Goodwill stores. The organization recently opened what some have dubbed the "Gucci" store in East Baltimore that specializes in such high-fashion items.

Goodwill is constantly paying attention to the latest trends and colors to make sure they are prominently displayed in its stores, Gentry said, adding, "Shoppers demand brand names just as if they're walking into a Macy's or a Nordstrom."

Uptown Cheapskate will be run much like South Moon Under, the small Maryland-based retail chain that has made a name for itself in national fashion publications. It will have a boutique feel and will carry brands such as Michael Kors, Coach and Vera Bradley, Schramm and Kline said. The big difference will be the prices.

"Our customer is into fashion," Kline said. "They want current, but we will help them get that at a more value-based price."

Kline and Schramm are hoping to benefit from the frugal shopping trend. The pair is counting on their retail experience to help make the stores a success. Kline, whose last job at South Moon Under was chief operating officer, will focus on the operations side of the business. Schramm, who formerly managed South Moon Under stores, will devote herself to merchandising and fashion.

"We had done it for others for so long we thought it was time to venture out and see if we could do it on our own two feet," Schramm said.

Uptown Cheapskate will target a young demographic — aged 18 to 35 — that cares about fashion. Items featured will have been in full-priced stores within the previous six months.

"We are very selective about what we are able to take," Schramm said.

The store, located in the Yorkridge Center South on York Road, will begin accepting clothes and accessories Tuesday. Kline and Schramm hope to begin selling later this summer

The pair said the store in Salisbury, which they started with the help of a small business loan, has performed well. They used some of the profits from that store and money from the first loan to open their new location.

andrea.walker@baltsun.com

twitter.com/ankwalker

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