The owner of an Ann Arbor thrift store explains how to keep the coronavirus at bay while looking for hot deals at shops like hers.

MICHIGAN — Yearning to get back to combing the racks at your fave local thrift shop but wary about health concerns, ’Ganders? Across Michigan, both big box retail stores like Goodwill and indie vintage, thrift, and consignment stores have reopened, employing new statewide safety guidelines and sanitation practices. 

Paulette Brown, general manager of Ann Arbor PTO Thrift Shop, gave The ’Gander a look inside the industry as well as some info and advice that went straight into our quick and easy guide to thrifting safer during COVID.

“Shopping at a thrift store is not a dirty thing,” Brown said. “We’re a small business, and, like all small businesses, we’re struggling. We’re servicing a mission of keeping things out of the landfill because they’re good and they’re reusable. We’re servicing those who live for a bargain and those who must out of an economic situation shop at a resale store. And we’re an employer, and we have a mission to support the public schools. So please go out and support your thrift shops.” 

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Here are five tips to keep your #thriftlife thriving during the coronavirus pandemic while supporting the shops doing the most for our local communities. 

1. Plan ahead. 

Before heading out to any given shop, call ahead or check online for their updated health and safety policies to ensure their level of precaution matches your level of comfort. Note that some shops, like Ann Arbor PTO Thrift Shop, have also instituted new rules for donors as well as shoppers. 

“In order to make it as safe as possible for returning customers and donors, we really re-engineered both our donations processes, from how they get dropped off through how long we hold them before we process them,” Brown said. Now, donations are quarantined for three days before they make their way onto the sales floor. 

All of Ann Arbor PTO Thrift Shop’s other updated shopping and donation procedures can be found on their website, an example of one small resale business doing it right.  

2. Reduce your risk.

You can’t eliminate risk when leaving your home, but the Health Department of Washtenaw County says the more lower-risk choices you make, the more protection you have from getting or spreading COVID-19. You can use the health department’s handy visual guide to help you decide what kind of store you’re comfortable visiting, and under what circumstances. 

As a reminder, here are some general prevention and risk reduction tips from the Washtenaw County Health Department: 

  • Practice social distancing when out. Social distancing means keeping at least six feet between people as much as possible.
  • Wear a face covering.
    • Cover your face when out in public, especially if you’re in an enclosed space or you’re likely to come within 6 feet from others. 
    • Under the Governor’s executive order 2020-77, any individual able to medically tolerate a face covering must wear a covering over his or her nose and mouth when in any enclosed public space, like the grocery store or pharmacy.
    • Learn how to make and wear your own cloth face covering. Given the current shortage of masks, we should make sure our healthcare workers and first responders are prioritized when it comes to surgical and N95 masks.
    • If you are sick: You should wear a facemask when you are around other people (e.g., sharing a room or vehicle) and before you enter a healthcare provider’s office. If you are not able to wear a facemask (for example, because it causes trouble breathing), then you should do your best to cover your coughs and sneezes, and people who are caring for you should wear a facemask if they enter your room. Learn what to do if you are sick.
  • Clean your hands often.
    • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, and before eating or preparing food.
    • If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
  • Do not touch your face or mouth, especially when out.
  • Stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care. Stay away from others in your home. Call ahead before going to your healthcare provider. Learn what to do if you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into the inside of your elbow. Immediately wash your hands.

3. Shop with your eyes. 

While thumbing through racks of secondhand clothing and picking up knick-knacks for close inspection may be a quintessential aspect of the thrifting experience for some, minimizing contact is key in reducing the spread of COVID-19. 

“I think everything you touch is a risk,” Brown said. “If you go to the grocery store and pick up the wrong can and set it back down, chances are somebody in front of you has done that. I think it’s your responsibility to clean your hands. … But at least once a week I’m checking the CDC for the possibility of transmission by surface touching, and it’s minimal at best.” 

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So you should be pretty sure you’re taking an item home before you pick it up. But you can fight the urge to test fabrics between your fingers, run your hands across overstuffed easy chairs, and touch lots more frequently touched things in a few creative ways: 

  • Keep your hands busy with a fidgety object like a small stress ball or rubber band from home. 
  • Write a short message or draw a little doodle on your hand in washable marker to remind yourself to think twice when you reach out to touch something. 
  • Don’t grab a basket or cart at the beginning of your trip — only pick up what you can hold. You’ll come into contact with less items overall. 

4. Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize. 

“First, our staff are sanitizing their hands and surfaces throughout the day and washing their hands throughout the day,” Brown said. “I mean, we touch things as they come in, some choose to wear gloves, some are sanitized.” 

Nonetheless, pro thrifters know the first thing to do with your finds once you bring ‘em home — pandemic or no —  is to give ‘em a good deep clean. 

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A list of disinfectants for use against SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease) is available from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This list includes many commonly used products you may already have in your kit. 

5. Leave it to the pros and thrift from home.

Ultimately, shopping at a thrift store is no more dangerous than shopping at any other kind of store right now — and it can do a lot more good. But if you’re comfier skipping nonessential outings, pursue your passion for secondhand fashion from home and support small Michigan thrift shops on Etsy like these: 

CuriousBookShop | East Lansing 
Vintage books, magazines, and paper ephemera — check out their extraordinary brick and mortar location across from MSU’s campus, too 

JakeRoebucks | Muskegon 
Vintage and antique photos 

SincerelySunnyBrook | Rochester 
Vintage and antique curiosities 

Thriftandsoul | Flint 
One-of-a-kind boho and Southwest-inspired pieces