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How Thrift Stores Scare Up Halloween Cash

"The idea is that you're providing another way to get people interested in Halloween in during September," says Morgan Goodwill Industries spokesman James Harder. While there, they may "see some signs for Halloween and come back for their costume."

Considering Goodwill relies on that Halloween income to fund its job-training programs and has set up a meter to show customers how their donations translate to training hours, there's a lot riding on those reused clothes. Harder says Morgan Goodwill plans to hire eight part-time workers at its 11 stores just for the rush.

The stakes are just as high for the Boston-based Boomerangs chain of thrift stores that serve as fundraisers for AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts. October is the peak sales month there as well, with its flagship store in the city's Jamaica Plain neighborhood bringing in $119,000 in October 2010 -- a 14% improvement over its monthly average. Those proceeds provide clothing stipends at the store for each AIDS Action client and help cover budget shortfalls and cuts among the organization's other programs.

"Since the money from the store is unrestricted, AIDS Action uses it wherever it's needed most," says Jasmine Crafts, manager of two of Boomerangs' four stores. "For revenue that's coming in during the fall, that money helps a lot of clients that need assistance with utilities, heating and housing in the winter."

That urgency makes both Boomerangs and Goodwill storage facilities year-round costume shops. Boomerangs employees spend the months leading into October pulling hospital scrubs, overalls and goth-friendly apparel out of the piles and assembling potential costumes. Morgan Goodwill's Harder and some warehouse employees, meanwhile, pulled a pair of boxing gloves, a silk robe and a robe with dollar bills printed into the fabric earlier this week and set them aside as boxer and promoter costumes.

They're not above prodding people into creativity, either. Morgan Goodwill's Halloween page offers dozens of costumes suggestions, ranging from Lady Gaga (leather jacket, studded leotard, soda can hair rollers) and Christina Hendricks's Joan Holloway character from AMC's (AMCX) Mad Men (bright boat-neck dress or sweater, tweed pencil skirt, pumps, long gold pen necklace, bouffant hair) to Progressive's (PGR - Get Report) commercial mascot Flo (white polo dress, white apron, "Flo" name tag, "I Heart Progressive" pin, wide blue headband) and Jane Lynch's Sue Sylvester character from Fox's (NWS) Glee (red jogging suit, sneakers, trophy).

If young Halloween costume buyers actually take that color-by-numbers bait, the not-so-secret benefit is the nearly immediate re-donation of those boat-neck dresses, studded leotards and stop-sign red jogging suits. Harder says it's a benefit Goodwill has embraced with its "Goodwill, not landfill" credo and an eco-friendly campaign that alerts donors to the 3.4 billion pounds of usable goods Goodwill has diverted from the trash. Boomerangs' Crafts, meanwhile, points out that re-donated costumes are a great way to repurpose someone else's costume creativity when the inspiration escapes you.

"We have had people get costumes here one year and then donate them back the next year to get a new one," she says. "I personally got the greatest handmade spider costume one year here. Someone made it. It was very elaborate, and I wore it two years in a row and donated it back, and the person who got it was so excited about wearing it."

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post,, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.
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