You Can't Always Get What You Want In Louisville's Resale Scene

Aug 11, 2021 at 12:33 pm
The checkout counter at Fat Rabbit Thrift & Vintage.  |  Photos by Kathryn Harrington
The checkout counter at Fat Rabbit Thrift & Vintage. | Photos by Kathryn Harrington



Problematic neighbors spurred me to move from a house near UofL to a much smaller place in the Highlands. My unfinished but spacious basement gave me ample room to store the vast majority of my collection of comic books, old magazines, books, VHS tapes, CDs, DVDs, Calphalon cookware and extra furniture.

Because I did not want to live like a hoarder surrounded by cardboard boxes, with only a narrow path to traverse from the kitchen to the bathroom and on to the bedroom, I realized I would have to downsize: Throw it away, give it away or donate it to charity. Better yet, if I sold my stuff, I could make tons of money. Or so I thought.

The only problem with that investment strategy is that for most things, it’s not worth as much as you think it’s worth.

The Resale Scene In Louisville

The supply of resale shops in Louisville goes from A to Z. We spoke to a few of them to learn more about the current state of the market. 

At Acorn Apparel, you can find vintage clothing to dress like a 1950s bobby-soxer or beat the heat in a 1980s multi-color one-piece. Zwanky V, just a block further down Bardstown Road, offers a wide selection of unique T-shirts, among other things. The wide variety of stores available in Louisville means that people can find just about anything they want to buy. But it also means there is a large market for people to sell their unwanted possessions.

Alex Darnell, manager of the Book and Music Exchange at 1616 Bardstown Road, has been with the resale business for 15 years and a collector of different kinds of antiquated media for most of his life. As the name suggests, his store — nestled near the Bonnycastle-Bardstown Road intersection — is jammed with DVDs, VHS tapes, books, video games and CDs.

Less than two miles away, at 994 Barrett Ave., Fat Rabbit Thrift & Vintage owner Jeff Komara focuses on apparel. Clothing dominates the front of the store, a long thin floor plan with high ceilings and exposed ductwork. In the back, there are records, books, magazines and vintage Playboys (wrapped in plastic and discreetly marked 18+). Jeff has been in the resale business for 18 years, and Fat Rabbit has been open for eight years.

[caption id="attachment_79460" align="alignnone" width="2560"] The checkout counter at Book and Music Exchange.[/caption]

One of the mainstays of the Louisville vintage scene, The Nitty Gritty, at 996 Barrett Ave., offers two floors of retro clothing from the 1920s to the 1980s, as well as a wide range of merchandise from the same eras. Owner Terri Burt has operated the shop for over 21 years and respects the fact that “vintage things were made to last forever.” 

Card N All Gaming, located at 5534 New Cut Road, near Iroquois Park, specializes in video and trading card games, and tabletop gaming. Co-owned by Mason Barry and Zack Saleh, the store has been in business for five years, and has a devoted following and plenty of space available in-store to play games. Mason feels that owning the store has been a “fun ride…taking something from a side hustle to an actual business.”

Despite the dominance of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, there is still a place for brick-and-mortar stores in Louisville. 

Darnell said that a lot of people turned to places like the Book and Music Exchange during COVID: “A lot of people found out that consuming digital media put them at the mercy of what those digital distribution services actually had to offer. Many came to find if they wanted to watch that old favorite movie, play that old game, or read that classic book, they were actually going to get their hands on a physical copy…So, we’ve enjoyed a resurgence of interest in many of the products that have always been our bread and butter.” 

Burt said The Nitty Gritty does all sales in store, and said online markets detract from the magic of shopping for vintage items: “I don’t do eBay. I want people to feel and touch and try these treasures on.”

In contrast, Mason told me that his store has a very sophisticated website that allows him to be “transparent with our prices…type in a card and it will show you…exactly how much we’re going to give to you in cash or store credit.”

Negotiating A Sale Price

Everyone knows that just by driving a new car off the lot, you’ve lost several thousand dollars. No one expects to take a used car to a dealer and be offered more than the car was initially worth. But, it seems like our mindset is different with regard to items that are collectibles or that we think should be collectibles. As Darnell observes, “Having a book or movie that is worth more than its original retail price years after the point of purchase is the exception, not the rule. Especially in a world where millions of items are a keystroke away.”

The most self-evident reason that people sell their stuff is to make money. But why some things and not others? Sometimes people sell possessions they never wanted in the first place, like heirlooms they have inherited from parents or grandparents.

People also develop a downsizing dream as a way to take control of their own lives by getting rid of what weighs them down, with the end goal being a simplified life. Burt and The Nitty Gritty help people downsize because she recognizes that the process can be “overwhelming.”

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind as you lay out your special possessions is the difference between a listing price and a selling price. Darnell notes that people can list merchandise for any price they want on a site like eBay or Amazon. 

Komara says, “I could ask $600 for a bag of spatulas all day but that doesn’t mean somebody’s actually gonna buy it.” Alex points out the consequences for him as a dealer: “People also want to believe that what they have is as valuable as that item can possibly be, so finding a listing with an inflated price also inflates the seller’s idea of what their particular item is worth.” Darnell encourages using the advanced search function on eBay to see what items have sold for rather than for what they are listed. Sure enough, some sold items are much lower than the asking prices.

[caption id="attachment_79461" align="alignnone" width="2560"] Nintendo 64 games at Book and Music Exchange. [/caption]

People who want to sell items overlook fixed costs and associated risks that small business operators have to take into account. Overhead, such as rent, or possible costs associated with selling an item (such as listing fees, the time and effort it takes to package and ship an object and the price of insurance) all factor into determining what a resale shop can offer a seller.

At Card N All Gaming, Barry observes that potential sellers’ happiness with an offer “goes either way. Some people are shocked at the offer that we give them; other people are kind of disappointed when we tell them that a card that they thought was $10,000 is one of the more common versions. It’s only 50 cents.”

Darnell said, “Because items can have considerably more sentimental value than monetary value, people tend to get offended if you can only offer a fraction of that sentimentality in the form of currency. I can’t offer cash that equates to your memories or connections to an item, nor do I intend to.” 

According to Barry, Pokémon cards are having a renaissance because “during the shutdown and the pandemic…everyone was kind of getting nostalgic… so many 20-somethings, 30-somethings had Pokémon cards growing up… kind of got back into it.” Interest really took off when YouTuber Logan Paul started promoting them.

One of the most sought after Pokémon cards is the first edition base set Charizard, which is worth tens of thousands of dollars. Of course, a price like that demands that the coveted object be in excellent condition. Because people played with Pokémon cards, Barry notes “very rarely do we see things that are in truly great shape.” 

According to Komara: “If someone isn’t happy with the offer that I give them I’d prefer that they not take that offer. I don’t want someone leaving my store feeling like they’ve been cheated.”

What strategy does Darnell suggest for dealing with angry or disappointed customers? “Listening. Everyone wants to be heard, everyone wants to be understood.”

Komara feels that a good way to dispel disappointment is to give people “the facts about your process…Or just simply showing them that you can get that same Blu-ray used on Amazon for 95 cents, so it isn’t really worth much. Most folks are reasonable when you are just straight-up with them.”

When I think about the items that no one seems to want, I am reminded of the Island of Misfit Toys, from the “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” animated holiday special. They are the toys with design flaws, quirks that make children not want them.

What are the misfit toys of today? 

Among those on Komara’s list are “Disney VHS. Aunt Hazel’s Pat Boone records. That brand new James Patterson book.” One notable “not interested” for Darnell is encyclopedias, which he refers to as “massive bricks of out-of-date information.” I make a mental note to toss my Compton’s Encyclopedia, which my well-meaning parents bought in 1974 and does not index Watergate, the Challenger disaster, 9/11 or climate change.

[caption id="attachment_79463" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Items for sale at Fat Rabbit Thrift & Vintage.[/caption]

I feel sorry for people who are trying to get rid of a piano. In one advertisement for a “FREE Wurlitzer Piano,” the seller wrote, “I can help get it into a truck. Should only take 2-3 other adults to move. It’s not ridiculously heavy.” Perhaps it’s not surprising that the listing was five weeks old when I saw it.

For many unwanted items, the best solution is a black, heavy-duty trash bag and the large garbage can provided by Louisville Metro Public Works. If you’re lucky enough to have access to a dumpster, even better. You can take the green approach and recycle or donate to charity.

Burt helps people clean out their own homes or homes of relatives. Her philosophy is that “there’s a place for everything… the work is find the right home for the right things. Does some of this go to Kentucky Refugee Ministries to help families… does it have life to go to a vintage store and be worn again?”

 A word of warning for those who want to try the charity route. For the average person, donating possessions does not work as a tax write off because the standard deduction — at $12,400 for a single person or $24,800 for a married couple filing jointly — is larger than how much you could accrue by itemizing deductions for donations.

Why We Overvalue

People have the unique ability to connect psychologically to objects. I did research that showed people enhance the value of an owned object merely because it is owned, a phenomenon I called the mere ownership effect. The mere ownership effect is a specific instance of a general tendency for people to see themselves as better than they are. The psychological logic is that since I am good, what I own must be good, and as a result, I will ask for a high price to sell it. 

Another reason why people overvalue their possessions is that they associate the object with memories of past events or friends and family members. As Komara notes, “Just because your #1 Grandpa mug was grandpa’s favorite doesn’t mean it has monetary value.” The boost in value will not apply to people who do not share those memories. Burt’s strategy is to ask, “Are these family pieces?” She can use this question to “gauge…how passionate they’re going to be about this stuff.”

Barry noted that fads develop from a combination of nostalgia and increased earning potential that develops as people get older. “As the years go by, people that couldn’t afford things…have disposable income now and are able to buy that stuff back.” He identifies a 15-to-20 year delay between when a cohort of children embraced a fad and when that fad becomes the focus of collectors.

A third reason people overvalue what they want to sell is that they have seen others luck into outrageous good fortune, an expectation fueled by television shows like Antiques Roadshow.

Subtle differences between what they have and what they see other people selling can influence a dealer’s offer. For books, there is usually a bump in value associated with a first edition. The first appearance of a superhero or villain is usually worth more than the second appearance. When I showed Darnell my copy of Abbie Hoffman’s “Steal This Book,” he pointed out that it was a third edition and, consequently, worth less.

Scarcity often leads to increased value. The “Death of Superman” comic isn’t worth that much because so many people bought copies, hoping they would increase in value. People who believe there’s a scarcity might expect more for their stuff. As Komara notes, “Some folks tend to overvalue their records because they are popular again amongst a more mainstream crowd.” Barry feels the Pokémon market may be cooling and reports that some people have bought expensive cards that have subsequently gone down in value.

[caption id="attachment_79462" align="alignnone" width="2560"] Rows of movies at Book and Music Exchange.[/caption]

The baby boomer generation has been accused of ruining the future for subsequent generations. Think about the ravages of climate change, the deficit and the bankruptcy of Social Security. One way millennials are getting their revenge on baby boomers is by rejecting their stuff. Millennials just don’t want what baby boomers have, even if it’s free. Think crystal, silverware made of real silver and heavy furniture. Lindsay Sheldon, one of principals at Happy Dance Quilting, a company that repurposes T-shirts into quilts, located at 650 S. Shelby St., is a member of the millennial generation. She looks “with dread upon all the knickknacks and tchotchkes filling the horizontal and vertical surfaces of my mom’s and uncle’s homes, knowing it will fall to me to do something with all these things one day.” For people trying to clear out a relative’s house, Burt feels, “If they get some kind of dollars, and they know it didn’t go into the dumpster, they’re pretty good with that.”

The one-third rule I learned from Darnell is that he will offer about one-third of what he hopes he can get for the item.

Fat Rabbit Thrift & Vintage has a rack of clearance DVDs and VHS tapes. Partially covering the $3.00 price tag on Season 2 of Arrested Development is a mark-down sticker of $1.00. The fact that it is sitting there waiting for me to find hints that the average thrift store consumer doesn’t think it’s worth even that price. 

I suppose the disappointment I feel when I discover my copy of the second season of Arrested Development (for which I paid retail) is essentially worthless is much less than what the people who made or starred in the show must feel. This insight provides me with at least a little comfort when I realize that the 33 cents I might expect for my copy is probably less than the cost of the gas to drive it to the store.

Jim Beggan is a professor of sociology at UofL. He regularly teaches classes on human sexuality, social problems and the self in society. He has published research on topics including the representation of gender and stereotypes in pornography, sexual decision making and social deviance.