U.S. retailers suffered through their worse Christmas sales performance in four decades as consumers drastically cut back on spending in December. The holiday period usually accounts for about one-third of retailers' annual sales.

Amid deteriorating economic conditions, there is one group of retailers who are benefiting from bad times: Thrift stores, which trade in used goods.
loads his new found treasure for a short bike trip home.

He says in hard times, it makes sense to shop at a thrift store. "My dollar can stretch here. I can sacrifice and save two or three months of pay to buy one item when I can take one week's pay come here and buy four, five or six items," he said.

Anna Echave is looking to save money on silverware at this Goodwill thrift shop just outside Washington, DC. She and her husband have been affected by the economic downturn. "My husband just lost his job," she explained. "So Goodwill helps us do some of the things we like to do usually (like entertaining) that we can't anymore because we cannot afford to buy new silverware."

Business is booming at thrift stores that specialize in used clothing and other (pre-owned) household wares. While other retailers report fewer shoppers amid the economic downturn, traffic at thrift stores is up.

At thrift stores, cost conscience shoppers sift through bargain packed clothing racks and browse the shelves filled with inexpensive items.

"There are a lot of good thrift stores in the area and sometimes you can find great values there," shopper Kevin Robins said. "So its a great way in this economy to save a dollar."

Another shopper said, "In this economy, when everything is going towards gasoline, food, insurance, and school, it just makes better sense to be more frugal."

Goodwill Industries
thrift store is a 2,200 organization running in the U.S. and Canada. In 2007, the stores generated nearly $2 billion in sales and those numbers have been rising over the last several years.

Dave Sullivan oversees Goodwill retail operations in the Washington, DC area. "The economy has helped us. People are coming in three, four times a week looking for that new product," he said. "It has put us on guard to make sure that we are freshening up and showing new goods as frequently as possible."  

At Goodwill's drive-through donation center, people drop off their unwanted household items. The goods are sorted and placed into bins before they are priced and added to the store's inventory. Six in ten dollars spent at the store pay for Goodwill's programs that help train and find jobs for the disabled and those who lack needed skills.

While most retailers are forecasting declining sales this year, Goodwill projects its retail store sales will rise five percent in 2009. But In order to meet the demand, they need donations of clothes and other items to keep these racks filled. With tough economic times ahead Goodwill officials hope people will not stop giving.