Goodwill thrift stores are cropping up in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valley areas as the nonprofit organization targets some high-end communities and upgrades its image. Within a matter of three weeks, three new stores have opened their doors in the area. A new store opened in Stevenson Ranch on June 25, followed by a store opening in Reseda on July 9 and another in Glendale on July 11. While the Reseda location replaced another store already existing in the area, the other two sites were completely new and strategically planned to tap into the giving strengths of their communities, said Peter Duda, the organization’s vice president of retail for Los Angeles-based Goodwill Southern California. “We’re always looking for sites that are in areas that are donations-rich,” Duda said. The Valley-area stores accompany the openings of three others in the Inland Empire this year. Goodwill Southern California has opened a location in Hemet and is planning two more in Temecula and Chino, Duda said. The openings bring the count up to six store openings this year. Last year, the organization only opened three, one located in Winnetka. Two donation centers were also opened last year, one of them located in Woodland Hills. Greater need The expansion is partially due to a goal established by the organization in recent years to increase its community impact by 50 percent and partially due to a realization that there is a greater need for thrift stores in the current economy, Duda said. The organization has also focused on changing the image of its new and remodeled stores, making changes such as using porcelain tile and stained concrete instead of vinyl tile and carpet. The stores are also now using more unified color schemes. “There’s a stigma attached to a thrift store,” Duda said, describing the typical thrift shop as messy and filled with piles of clothes on tables. “We’ve tried to really upgrade our image. … We feel that it’s the shopping experience that’s important for our customers.” Duda said the location and design strategies appear to be working at Stevenson Ranch, which is already becoming one of the organization’s top sites for donations and sales. Thrift store business While selling donated goods might sound like a lucrative business plan, nonprofit-based thrift stores like Goodwill and The Salvation Army must factor costs, such as transportation, when they create their budgets. The organizations rely heavily on trucks and trailers to haul around their goods at a time when gas prices are very high. They also have to take into account that the majority of their revenues are used for employment and rehabilitation services the nonprofits provide to disadvantaged communities. However, other factors are helping thrift stores eliminate costs and bring in more money, said Dawn Marks, marketing consultant for the western territory Salvation Army rehabilitation centers. “It’s how much more recycling has been done in the past few years, especially in California and on the West Coast,” Marks said, referring to law changes that have opened up the recycling market over the past couple of years. “There’s whole markets for these large kids’ playhouses, those large plastic things. … Before it would be dumped and we’d have to pay a dump fee. Now they’re looking to buy some of these things.” Economic factors Marks said the economy has also played a major factor in increasing sales at thrift stores as people try harder to cut their spending. “Our store sales are actually up, and we’re attributing most of the increase to the economy because we’re noticing more customers in our stores, new faces,” she said. The five thrift stores in The Salvation Army’s Canoga Park service area have experienced a 6.6-percent increase over the past year.