April 21, 2010; USA Today | Nonprofit “thrift stores” are in an interesting recession-era bind. The Salvation Army, Goodwill Industries, and Habitat for Humanity indicate that demand is up but donated second-hand goods are down. In a recession, consumers are buying less clothing and furniture, and therefore they have less used stuff to donate to thrift shops.

A representative of the Salvation Army told USA Today that donations are down 20 percent in California and other western states. Goodwill appears to be quite dependent on thrift shop revenues, earning $2 billion a year from 2,300 thrift shops. One-fourth of Goodwill thrift shops are reporting fewer donations, though overall donations to Goodwill’s second-hand shops are up 3 percent nationally.

USA Today suggests that “groups such as the Salvation Army rely on thrift shop sales to fund their charitable operations,” though we think that “rely” might be a tad too strong a word to apply to all of these organizations with thrift shop operations. But as revenues to the sponsors and as low-cost goods to people who need them, the economic downturn isn’t helping either side of this equation.—Rick Cohen