"Us little people have to help each other out," Jennifer's Variety Store owner Jennifer Edwards said Thursday, Dec. 22, from her downtown Thayer store. "I just wish there were more stores downtown."
Edwards, 33, who opened her store on Chestnut Street a little more than two years ago, said she routinely sends customers to Connie Johnston's Junk In The Trunk store a few blocks up Chestnut Street.
Edwards sells a wide range of furniture, household items, clothes and books, while Junk In the Trunk focuses on handcrafted jewelry and refurbished household items, particularly trunks.
"We are not competitors," Johnston, 52, said, adding that she frequently shops at Jennifer's Variety Store to find the materials she needs to refurbish furniture and decorative items in her store. "My job as a citizen is to shop in this community."
Johnston and Edwards are two of a growing population of resale, thrift and secondhand stores in the Oregon County and Mammoth Spring area, each with its own specialty and style. Some report better 2011 profits than others, although most say business was slow this holiday season.
Still, at least two of the shops, including Jennifer's Variety Store and Rob's Flea Market in Mammoth Spring, put out boxes of free items on the sidewalks in front of their stores last week. Rob's included a sign that read, "Free shoes. Merry Christmas."
Edwards put out two boxes of neatly folded sweaters and sweat pants with a message for passersby to take what they need. The free boxes are a common sight in summer.
"It's my way of giving back to the community," Edwards said.
Much of what Edwards takes into her store, too, is donated. Often, churches will bring their rummage sale leftovers, or residents will leave items at her door.
"People want to bring it to someone who can use it," Edwards said.
Johnston, who first opened as a flower shop four years ago, switched to a resale shop a year ago at her husband, Tom's, insistence.
The couple moved to Thayer from California five years ago. Johnston visited family in the area often as a child, although her husband chose the area for retirement.
When Johnston's nephew, Cpl. Jason Scott Clairday of Salem, Ark., was killed in Iraq in 2005, Tom Johnston decided, after attending Clairday's funeral, to make the move from the West Coast.
"My husband always wanted to buy me a flower shop. He said, 'because it's all you've ever asked for our entire marriage,'" Johnston said.
Johnston said closing the flower shop broke her heart, but she could not seem to generate customers. Things don't always work out as planned, she said.
"I used to lock that door and cry," Johnston said.
Now, Johnston is concentrating on offering only American-made items in her store, inspired by her nephew's love for his country. "He was such a proud Marine -- Mr. USA," she said.
Johnston buys out yard sales and looks for bargains at auctions to stock her store. She and her husband repair items when they can, or even turn it into something entirely different.
"I'm not trying to get rich," Johnston said. "I'm just trying to make a living and have fun."
Across Highway 63 in Thayer, Kidfitter's owner Ella Oakes has been in business seven years. As granddaughters Madalynn, 8, and Haley, 6, played on the floor behind the counter, Oakes said her customers have watched them grow up.
"Everyone knows my girls," Oakes said.
The freedom to run her own store is what prompted Oakes to buy Kidfitter's when it went out of business in West Plains.
Oakes moved it to its spot in the shopping center near the Thayer Cemetery and specializes in baby items and resale clothing.
"It seems like it's been slower this year, but if I checked, probably not," Oakes said.
The store is packed with racks of every size of clothing, from infant to adult, with toys and some household items on display. Movie videos and DVDs also are popular.
Oakes said she understands that many of her customers simply cannot afford to buy new items.
Ragan's Fashions owner Ragan Bragg has been in business on Main Street in Mammoth Spring 10 years, selling only consignment clothing, shoes and new jewelry. For herself, she has bought only secondhand clothing since 1998 as a matter of practicality.
Bragg points out to customers that they can buy the same name-brand items in her store as they will find in exquisite city stores.
But, instead of spending $85 on a business suit, they can spend $20 and have enough cash left over for a tank of gas and nice dinner before leaving town.
"They leave here with tears in their eyes, they are so happy they can't see straight," Bragg said.
Bragg said she and her staff will hand customers garments through the dressing room door, just like a high-end department store, and search for just the right items to fit their tastes.
"I call it decorating people," Bragg said, adding that her grandmother helps her with styles for seniors. "We cater to every generation."
And just like Edwards and Johnston, if Bragg doesn't have a particular size or style a customer is searching for, she calls Select Seconds in Salem or other stores to locate garments.
And, as she does every year, Bragg will have a 70-percent-off sale the week between Christmas and New Years. She also offers gift cards.
Tina Briggs, owner of This-N-That in Alton, said her clientele has changed in the three years since she opened on the square. She is working to bring in better quality items without sinking a lot of money into her store.
Items that don't sell, are gotten rid of, she said.
Briggs attends auctions and consignment sales to stock her store, then cleans up the items for resale.
Some of her frequent customers are also resale, online or antique store owners.
"That doesn't bother me one bit," Briggs said of customers who buy things at This-N-That to sell in other towns. "I got what I wanted to out of it."
Briggs said that when she inquired about renting the building from Alton Mayor Richard Haigwood, she told him she wanted to open a used furniture store. "He said, 'Good. We need one,'" she said.
During the past three years, business has slowly climbed, Briggs said.
She speculates her growth is due, in part, to the sinking economy, with more people shopping for affordable used merchandise.
"I have antiques, but I don't have antique prices," Briggs said.