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As economy falters, many trying to convert possessions into cash

Student Kristina Marquez looks at a skirt from a rack of new and used clothes at Buffalo Exchange in Fullerton, Calif. Many such shops nationwide are seeing a rise in business. Student Kristina Marquez looks at a skirt from a rack of new and used clothes at Buffalo Exchange in Fullerton, Calif. Many such shops nationwide are seeing a rise in business. (Don Bartletti/ Los Angeles Times)
By Jura Koncius
Washington Post / October 13, 2008
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WASHINGTON - Patricia Ohlemiller packed up her telescope recently and headed to the Gaithersburg, Md., drop-off center for iSold It eBay. She hoped to recoup $150, minus commission, of its original $350 value.

Planning to retire next year and worried about putting her house on the market, Ohlemiller said, "I'd rather sell stuff I don't need and get the cash."

Colleen Magro brought a heavy box to the Bethesda, Md., offices of Sloans & Kenyon Auctioneers and Appraisers a couple of weeks ago for appraisal day. Inside were Chinese ceramics and Brazilian sculptures set with semiprecious stones that she hoped to consign.

"I was laid off in December," Magro said. "I need money. I thought I'd have a job by now."

It's too late to dump Fannie Mae stock, but you can still dump that doll, bracelet, or espresso machine in its original box.

With financial markets plummeting, a growing number of people anxious about jobs, savings, and retirement are looking over their shelves, storage units, attics, and safety deposit boxes for items they no longer use. They're contacting online sellers, consignment shops, and auctions about unloading the unwanted possessions.

"People are selling coins their grandfather gave them for gas money," says Nicholas Pyle, an eBay trading assistant based in Washington, who has been getting panicked calls.

Listings on eBay, an auction site, have increased 19 percent in the past year, and overall revenue has grown 13 percent, spokeswoman Jenny Baragary said.

Classified ads for furniture and household items on Craigslist are up nearly 100 percent from last year, spokeswoman Susan MacTavish Best said.

Will the economic crisis force Americans to examine overstuffed closets and rethink the mantra to "collect 'em all"?

Daniel Nissanoff is the author of "FutureShop: How to Trade Up to a Luxury Lifestyle Today," about how online shopping affects consumer culture. He says buying and selling branded goods secondhand has become socially acceptable.

There are customers for secondhand items because they are still cheaper than buying new.

At the Christ Child Opportunity Shop in Washington's Georgetown neighborhood, sales are up 15 percent over a year ago, and the number of inquiries has doubled.

At Replacements in Greensboro, N.C., a china, crystal, and silver shop, president Scott Fleming said a Georgia woman sold her Portmeirion Botanic Garden dishes to make a mortgage payment. Another woman cashed in her sterling silver flatware to fund a vacation.

"Our phone calls and purchases from individuals are up 10 percent this year," Fleming said. "They are hoping to get a few extra dollars in tough times."

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