Cream of the shop
The sweetest items in Goodwill’s donation bin never make it to stores. Here’s why that’s a good thing
Dylan Lippert has seen a lot come through the Goodwill warehouse he manages in Tacoma. The warehouse recently received a Roland synthesizer and a sterling silver sugar and creamer dish set with six spoons.
Earlier this year Lippert opened a cardboard box to find an African mask from the late 19th to early 20th century.
“It takes a lot to get me surprised,” Lippert said. “This particular donation did it for me.”
It was one of more than 50 African artifacts Goodwill received through an anonymous donation to a Port Townsend thrift shop this fall. Dozens of boxes were filled with masks, statues and drums from Cameroon and Burkina Faso.
The items sold at shopgoodwill.com for prices from $10 to $2,600 each, raising a total of $23,473 for the organization.
Goodwill is known for its thrift shops packed with cheap clothing, appliances, furniture and dishware, donated by people cleaning out their garages and attics. Among those castoffs are expensive items that may never make it into the store: Jewelry, designer clothing, works of art and collectibles.
Some people think their high-end items will end up sold for a fraction of their worth, but George White, spokesperson for Goodwill Tacoma, said Goodwill workers are trained to identify and sort out valuable donations.
These are sold in one of Goodwill’s other ventures, shopgoodwill.com, an eBay-style auction site that 140 Goodwill branches across the country share.
Tacoma Goodwill typically has 4,000 items up for auction at a time, and brings in $4.5 million a year.
Online sales account for about 3 percent of the Goodwill’s revenue nationwide. The Goodwill branches in Seattle, Tacoma and Portland are among the top five contributors to the online auction site.
A Goodwill in Dayton, Ohio, recently posted an antique black lace mourning shawl. Another in Toledo, Ohio, posted a John Deere riding lawnmower.
Each branch has on-site appraisers who research the items collected, set a conservative price and then put them up for auction.
Once out in the market, buyers often bid much higher than the initial asking price.
A Salvador Dalí painting that Goodwill estimated was worth $7,000, sold for $21,000.
The African artifacts also exceeded the original asking price.
One mask from Cameroon was posted at $45, but sold for more than $2,600.
Goodwill’s thrift shops and online sales generate revenue for job training and internship opportunities. Seattle Goodwill can train more than 8,000 people in a year in technology, GED, citizenship and retail sales classes.
The organizations in Seattle and Tacoma have a few stores where they sell designer clothing and jewelry. Seattle Goodwill also hosts the annual Glitter Sale, which features high-end clothing that is collected throughout the year, bringing in $265,000 last year.
Not every item received, however, goes up for sale. Goodwill sets aside any military certificates, medals or awards and turns them over to the Department of Defense so they are given back to veterans or surviving family members.
In 2006, someone donated a beaded vest likely made by the Blackfoot Tribe in the early 1900s to the Seattle Goodwill, which eventually donated it to the Burke Museum.
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