Britain was once branded as “a nation of shopkeepers”.  Unfortunately, that image has slowly disintegrated, and very recently, the destruction of the small shop has become so commonplace.[ad#ad-1]

As an American, I do find it convenient to shop for everything in one place. But the quaintness of the small family-owned shops is so essentially British that I hate to see that institution dying.

When we made up our minds to move here, we thought we’d like to support these small shops. Unfortunately, with the recession, it has been difficult.  We live in an out-of-the-way spot, where there are no small shops, so it’s easiest to go to the nearest grocery store for everything.  Also, it’s the big shops that can offer special deals, and when money is tight, it’s the driving force.

But, there are other shops that are closing down due to competition, not from major retail chains, but from charity shops.  And this makes it even sadder.  I have seen four small bookshops close recently in towns nearby.  I love books, but I especially love the old, used ones.  And two of those bookshops sold used books.  Unfortunately, the charity shops have taken business away from these stores, making it harder for them to compete against the big names, like WH Smith or Waterstone’s.

Though I shouldn’t rant on charity shops, I can’t help it.  These charity stores are unlike the thrift stores in the US.  Of course, they do whatever it takes to make money for their charities, but I can’t help wondering how much of their money actually goes to benefit the charity, and how much goes to pay the executives, etc.  In addition, some of their pricing is more like a discount boutique.  They even strive to look like one.

There is a charity bookshop that we shop at.  We support it because the pricing is very good – not inflated like the charity boutiques.  Also, they don’t appear to trash anything.  The boutiques only like to display books that look new.  Then there are charity stores that aim to look like antique stores, so their pricing also reflects that.

So, yes, I bemoan the fate of the family-run bookshops that face competition from two sides.  I have noticed also that some of the clothing shops are ready to go the same route.  It won’t be long before the little baker’s and butcher’s will face that fate (though they can’t blame charity stores for their demise).


In the United States there are several types of thrift stores. You have church-affiliated thrift stores, charitable organization shops, and other for-profit thrift stores. The organization of each is different but the goals of all are to sell goods at low prices. Primarily, the goods are second hand, most having been donated, in the cases of the church-affiliated and charitable organizations. Of course, some of these shops may also sell new items, usually close-outs, irregulars and such.

We shop a lot at thrift stores for various items. It gives us a chance to compare one thrift store against another. In recent times, we have noticed that although places like Salvation Army and the church thrift stores have continued the tradition of selling things very cheap, because they cater to the poor, Goodwill is starting to sell at higher prices and are pickier about what they sell. No longer are they selling everything that is donated. It seems they sort through the donations, keeping only the very best. This is good news to some, who do not like going through “junk”, but it does mean that their prices are higher.

Coming to England, I have found that there are numerous charity shops, each affiliated with one charity or another. However, I can’t say that their prices are very charitable. These charity shops sell “good” second-hand goods as well as new items. “Thrift” is not the term I would apply to any of these shops. They remind me of the Goodwills in America, only somewhat costlier. I have seen box-loads of donations outside the doors of these shops, yet the stock does not appear to be much changed nor are the shops packed. My question is, “Are they even keeping these donations or just throwing them out?”

What is the purpose of these charity shops? Are they not there to help those in need? Or are they only out to make money for their specific charities? And how much of their profits actually go to the charity as opposed to the pockets of the administrators? Are people donating to these places thinking they are contributing to a worthwhile cause/organization, while the administration gets rich? Is it right that these organizations receive free donations and turn around and mark them up?

In these days of credit crunch when people are losing jobs and homes and have less money to spend, why are these charities pricing items so that these people cannot even afford to shop in charity shops?

Recently, we entered a shop and bought some books.  There were signs posted stating that certain books were individually priced while the rest were under one umbrella pricing.  When we went to pay, the clerk, who is supposed to be a volunteer, took it upon herself to decide the books were too good to be under the blanket pricing and repriced them especially for us.  Was that fair?  Was that charitable?  It’s like bait-and-switch.  Why should consumers have to pay more because one clerk thinks the price should be higher than what another clerk determined?