January 8, 2009

New law threatens thrift shops

Lisa Glover, owner of Too Good To Be Through

UPDATE, Jan.9, 2009: Reprieve! The Consumer Product Safety Commission must have been listening to all the howls from thrift shops and their customers -- and has backtracked, exempting resellers.

The CPSC put up a release on its website this morning, stating " CPSC clarifies requirements of new children's product safety laws taking effect in February; Guidance intended for resellers of children's products, thrift and consignment stores."

Gist of the change:
The new safety law does not require resellers to test children’s products in inventory for compliance with the lead limit before they are sold. However, resellers cannot sell children’s products that exceed the lead limit and therefore should avoid products that are likely to have lead content, unless they have testing or other information to indicate the products being sold have less than the new limit. Those resellers that do sell products in violation of the new limits could face civil and/or criminal penalties.
The full statement is HERE.

Original story:

Buying clothes for your kids is about to get harder. And more expensive.

You mothers who depend upon yard sales and thrift shops to keep up with your kids' growth spurts and changing tastes in clothes -- well, you may be out of luck.

The news is just getting out: Unless Congress acts very quickly, a law passed overwhelmingly last year threatens to put thousands of U.S. consignment shops out of business -- including two in Racine that exclusively sell children's clothing and toys.

Even Goodwill is worried.

It was a well-intentioned law, called the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. Its aim: keep lead-filled merchandise, primarily toys and clothing, away from children. It passed the House 407 to 0 on Dec. 19, 2007; all Wisconsin lawmakers voted for it, including Rep. Paul Ryan. It passed the Senate on March 6, 2008, 79 to 13. Both of our senators, Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold, voted aye. It was signed into law by President Bush on Aug. 14, 2008.

The law mandates testing for lead and phthalates (chemicals that make plastics more pliable) of all products for children aged 12 and younger. New and used products. Any product not tested is assumed to be hazardous, regardless whether it contains any lead.

The law takes effect on Feb. 10.

That's the day Lisa Glover, owner of Too Good To Be Through, a children's consignment shop at 720 High Street, expects she'll have to go out of business. "There's no way we can test everything," she said.

Glover, who has run her store for three years -- it used to be on Sixth Street -- said she hadn't heard of the new law until yesterday. "A customer emailed me a link. I was pretty surprised." Actually, she was very surprised, especially because she's on the Consumer Product Safety Commission's email notification list, which provides immediate notice of any product recalls.

"I'm honestly not sure what we're going to do," she said Thursday. "All I know is that we can be fined $100 for each and every item." She looked around her store, as if counting each of the thousands of shirts and skirts and jeans and toys. "One shop I talked to said they could be fined $100,000," she said finally.

Glover doesn't look at the problem as a business problem; although business is improving as the economy has gone to hell, consignment shops aren't very profitable. Rather, she worries how her customers will dress their kids. She speaks from experience, as the mother of two daughters, ages 5 and 6. Too Good To Be Through has had 730 consignors in its six-year history -- the number grows by about 25 each month. Those who consign outgrown clothing to be sold in the shop -- they receive 45% of the sale price when items sell -- generally use the money earned to buy more clothes for their kids.

"What are they going to do?" she asks.

And then there's another issue Glover worries about: the environment: "What is the government telling you to do: Throw everything away when your kids outgrow it? So many people are shopping re-sale," she said. "I hate the idea of these things going into a landfill."

She looked around her shop at the toys and said, "Children's stuff is really, really expensive. The kids play with it for a couple of months and then they stop playing with it." She says, "The mindset is changing; a year ago at Christmas, there was a stigma to giving used toys, but not this year. Blame the economy. The only difference is the used stuff comes without a box."

Glover says day care centers "are devastated" with the new difficulty they will have keeping kids well dressed.

Robin Floyd, who runs Children's Cupboard at 3034 Lathrop Avenue in Elmwood Plaza, worried about foster parents, who do not receive very much money from the state for taking care of children, and depend upon used clothing.

Both shops sell clothing that could pass for new; in many cases it practically is new. It's clean and well presented. Floyd and Glover say they accept only some of what consignors bring in to sell -- maybe just half. The rest is returned to the consignor or, if they don't want it back, is donated to charity. Glover donates clothing to Teen Mom, a Sixth Street program for single mothers run by local churches. The young mothers earn points for going to class, or working and use the points to "buy" things for their kids. Floyd said Dr. Veronica Carver, a local doctor, pays to clean clothing rejected by Children's Cupboard and then sends it at her own expense to charities in Liberia.

A check with Goodwill's offices in Wisconsin Thursday provided the information that the organization is aware of the new law and looking into it ... but still unsure of its ultimate impact. Goodwill shops, of course, sell more than just children's clothes and toys.

Glover said she and her husband have contacted the offices of Ryan, Kohl and Feingold, but they aren't very optimistic. "Ryan's staff said they are looking into it," she said. "Kohl's and Feingold's said they hadn't heard of the issue." And yet... they all voted for the law.

There's an effort to reduce the law's impact. On Tuesday, the Consumer Product Safety Commission's tentatively voted to exempt items with lead parts that a child cannot get to, clothing made of natural materials like cotton and wool, wood toys and electronics that cannot be made without lead.

It's doubtful that would solve thrift shops' problem, however. Glover said, for example, that even if a garment is all wool, appliques and buttons aren't all natural, and even cotton is often mixed with polyester, or has chemical dyes.

Which leads to the question of enforcement: who's going to monitor thousands of secondhand stores, and all those yard sales? "The CPSC is an agency with limited resources and tremendous responsibility to protect the safety of families," said Scott Wolfson, a CPSC spokesman. "Our focus will be on those areas we can have the biggest impact and address the most dangerous products."

For now, just one thing is clear: Children's clothing that is legal to sell on Feb. 9 will become illegal on Feb. 10.

If you want to submit comments or receive notifications from the CPSC, register her at www.cpsc.gov .


  1. This is craziness. At a time when everyone is looking to save a penny or a dollar, this law wants to outlaw selling used clothing?! What are kids supposed to wear?!

  2. I'm glad they came to their senses by offering an out for re-salers

  3. Re-sale stores, ebay sellers, and craigslist sellers are not SAVED! The press release just says resalers do not have to test. They still have to meet all the guidelines, and could face civil and/or crimal penalties if they don't KNOW that an item meets the requirements. In case you haven't read that part of the press release, it says "unless they have testing or other information to indicate the products being sold have less than the new limit."

    Unless Congress actually amends the law to exempt resale stores and not have it retroactive (have it only effect products made on or after Feb. 10) this law still faces all Americans that buy or sell used children's items.

    Americans, don't be complacent. CONTACT YOUR CONGRESSMEN! They are the only ones that can amend this law!