Just a Thought – Are Charity Shops good for Maidstone?

Charity Shops by Jamie GareBy Loan Langrick

Charity Shops have positively mushroomed in Maidstone. Whilst some are within easy reach of Jubilee Square other clusters of these veritable Aladdin’s caves, are as far apart as Union and Mill Street. No wonder Maidstone has become a magnet for eager tourists determined to bag a bargain…

I discovered my first charity shop over forty years ago. This was shortly after one of my son’s friends warned him that although his girlfriend was very nice, she would prove to be very high maintenance indeed should he ever decide to marry her.

“All those different dresses and big hats must have cost a bomb”. He said. “She’s got very expensive tastes and you’d be working day and night just to keep up with her”

Truth to tell, this canny young lady would have proved to be anything but high maintenance because, as she later confided in me, she bought all her clothes from a charity shop! As these little treasure troves were few and far between in those days, I had scarcely noticed them before. However, as soon as I realised there were real bargains to be had, I decided to look into them myself…

From time immoral the British have always loved a bargain. They rummage through someone else’s rejects at Church jumble sales and queue overnight for something they didn’t realise they wanted, until other eager hands have grabbed it! So, charity shops have been a natural progression for this very British eccentricity.

So, if the charity shops are raking the money in for good causes, what about the regular retail stores who are slashing their profits in order to survive? Are so many of these little gems, scattered around Maidstone, a threat to retailers or could they possibly be a blessing?

A few years ago a reputable research team were asked to investigate if shops made more or less profit when trading on their own or in competition on busy high streets. One of the conclusions reached was that businesses thrived and the staff far happier when there’s a stimulating buzz of activity about them. Also, in these days of “retail therapy” when the public rush from shop to shop and examining the goods is usually of far more interest than their surroundings, charity shops merely add to this sense of urgency so their input is a very positive one.

The majority of their clothing is usually of such a high standard, even experts in this field can be seriously impressed, including the proprietor of “Zippy Stitch” who has spent a lifetime making and altering clothes. Recently she told me how she was amazed to find charity shops selling such good quality clothing. It was when she added, “We have nothing like this in South Africa”. I suddenly realised why all those tourists flock to Maidstone.  They aren’t coming for our history, Oh no. They are just hoping to grab some bargains!

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