When Kim Powers gets back to Elizabethtown College after spring break, she'll tell her roommate where she bought that colorful new blouse, but she won't tell anyone else at the Pennsylvania school. They might not understand why a nice young woman from affluent Glyndon would shop at Goodwill.
But she had her reasons for coming to the grand opening of the new Goodwill Fashion Outlet at Chartley Park Center in Reisterstown yesterday. They were in her hands.
"That's from Paul Harris," she said, showing off a $4.25 designer blouse that looked like new. "Now, come on!"
For Ms. Powers and many Baltimore-area bargain-hunters, shopping at Goodwill just ain't what it used to be.
At a half-dozen locations, Baltimore Goodwill Industries has opened what it calls Goodwill Fashion Centers, stores designed to appeal to suburbanites who might hesitate to shop at a traditional Goodwill store.
Gone are the tile floors and the tables piled high with pants, irons, fans and old shoes.
The stores are carpeted, and the clothing -- about 80 percent of the merchandise -- is neatly displayed on hangers under bright lights. In the store windows are mannequins dressed in carefully matched ensembles from well-known designers.
There are no repaired appliances and no patched-up furniture, just a small housewares section and a little bit of jewelry.
Brian Kenyon, an assistant chef at the Pikesville Hilton, was one of the few men in the opening-day crowd at the new Reisterstown store, and he was impressed.
"This is just like a regular store," he said as he loaded up on $2.50 shirts. "You don't feel like you're in a Goodwill place," he said.
Doug Hiob, Baltimore Goodwill's vice president for operations, said Baltimore Goodwill Industries' $3 million in annual sales provide 55 percent of the funding for the organization's vocational training, job-placement and jobs programs for the disabled and disadvantaged.
The Goodwill Fashion Outlet concept was launched four years ago in Bel Air and was a hit from the start, he said.
It expanded to Annapolis, Arbutus, Dundalk and Randallstown before yesterday's opening.
Coupled with the improved display is a new emphasis on customer service, Mr. Hiob said. Trained salespeople are in each of the stores to help customers mix and match.
"We can do the whole thing," he said. "We even accessorize it with jewelry and a pin."
While the clothing in the Fashion Outlets is better displayed than in its traditional stores in Baltimore, Mr. Hiob said Goodwill does not cherry-pick the best items for
its suburban stores. Goodwill's five Baltimore stores and one in Glen Burnie have not been converted to the new concept because surveys show customers there want the full range of goods sold at traditional Goodwill stores, he said.
Although Goodwill serves many customers who are in dire economic straits, most customers interviewed yesterday in Reisterstown said they were middle-income people with a nose for a bargain.
"Why go out and spend more when you can spend less?" said Mr. Kenyon. In fact, Mr. Hiob said, the average annual income of customers at the Bel Air fashion outlet is $35,000.
While Goodwill executives say the social stigma of shopping at Goodwill is wearing off, they admit that some people have a hard time getting past the idea of wearing used clothes.
In fact, said Mr. Hiob, 10 percent to 20 percent of the clothing at Goodwill is new merchandise donated by retailers or manufacturers.
On one occasion last year, he said, a Baltimore-area company that manufactures clothing for well-known designers gave Goodwill 400 women's suits that retailed for between $400 and $500. Goodwill sold them for $50.
Harvey E. Kettering, Baltimore Goodwill's chief executive officer, said the nonprofit group plans to expand its Goodwill Fashion Outlet chain at the rate of a store a year. The only thing holding back faster expansion, he said, was the level of donations, which have come under pressure from competing groups.
That's one reason he was pleased that there was room at the Chartley Park Center for a trailer outside to collect donations.
"It's a one-stop shop" for people, he said. "They can come and they can donate and then they can come in and be a customer."