Rap song is music to Goodwill stores' ears

Buy Photo Peter Huoppi/The Day Doreen Savaria of Uncasville shops at a Goodwill store in Norwich on Tuesday.

There is such a thing as a shirt so hideous it's attractive.

"I'm aware it's ugly," said Macayla Baker, 19, of the garment hanging in the Norwich Goodwill. "But it's like, so cool and unique that it's like, fine."

Employees at the Norwich and Groton Goodwill stores said they've seen an increase in the number of high school and college-age shoppers since the hit song "Thrift Shop" by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis began rising on the R&B charts.

On April 5, the song set a record on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart as the longest-running No. 1 rap song, according to Billboard.com.

The music video on YouTube has more than 293 million page views.

Local customers said the song has made Goodwill shopping socially acceptable, even hip, at a time when many families are struggling in a bad economy. Kids said they don't have to hide in the car or be embarrassed to be seen at Goodwill because everyone else is in there.

Joy Cote, manager of the Groton store, said she recently saw an 8-year-old girl playing the song on her mother's phone and dancing in the aisles.

The Norwich and Groton stores hold the No. 1 and 2 spots for sales volume among Goodwills in New London County, with more than $1 million in yearly sales each.

In "Thrift Shop," Macklemore and Ryan Lewis rap about how they've only got $20 in their pockets, they're "popping tags" at the thrift shop and looking for a "come up." That's rapper slang for gaining a leg up to the next level.

Raps Macklemore: "I'm-a take your grandpa's style, I'm-a take your grandpa's style. No, for real - ask your grandpa - can I have his hand-me-downs?" The music video declares spending $50 on a Gucci T-shirt is getting "tricked by business."

Jennifer Kimble, 20, who shopped at the Groton store last week, said her friend has started wearing her grandpa's mustard-colored sweater.

"It looks so good on her I'm actually jealous," she said.

Lucas Blevins, who works at the Groton Goodwill, said a lot of popular rap music raves about going to the club, spending money and getting women.

But most people don't have those means, Blevins said.

"It kind of takes that high-and-mighty view of people who have a lot of money, and sort of brings it down and makes it seem like, you know, you don't need to have a million dollars to have a lot of fun," he said.

Joyce Richmond, 68, a customer at Groton Goodwill, said she heard the song, including its foul language. There's a sanitized version for radio.

"It's hilarious," she said. She's shopped at Goodwill long before the song came out.

"I buy everything here, except underwear and shoes," she said. "There's nothing a little bleach won't cure. I think."

Jennifer Giddens, who works in the Norwich store, bought the gown she's wearing to an upcoming ball at Goodwill.

"It's black satin, it's beautiful and I got it for $1.50," she said. The dress was from David's Bridal and originally cost $369, she said.

Samantha Tice, 19, a Pawcatuck area native who works at the Norwich Goodwill, said classmates would have talked behind her back if she'd shopped there years ago.

"If anyone knew ... they'd be like 'Oh my God. Did you hear, so-and-so shops at Goodwill?" She didn't shop at Goodwill until she worked at one, because she didn't have to buy her own clothes. Now her friends go in with her.

Kevin Keel, 20, who works at the Norwich store, tries on clothes people donate and then shows them off while working. One recent outfit: A World War II helmet, a red trench coat, and a utility belt.

"The thing is, we go and accept donations dressed like that and people don't think anything of it," he said.

Steve Schroeder, a retired painter from Groton who worked in real estate, furnished his entire house at Groton Goodwill for $400, including his towels and shower curtain.

"They looked brand-new. I wouldn't buy them if they looked disgusting," he said.

More customers are shopping at Goodwill because of the economy and good deals, not because of a song he's never heard.

"These stores were never packed like they are now," he said.

Blevins said he's thought about creating a reality show where you dress someone from Goodwill and someone from a store like Ann Taylor, and see if people can tell the difference.

He bets they couldn't.

"Because clothes are clothes, man," he said. "It's all the same polyester fibers put together."

d.straszheim@theday.com

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