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Good times for repair shops and secondhand stores

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•Sales increased year-over-year this fall at 74 percent of secondhand stores surveyed by the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops (NARTS). Ninety percent of the stores saw an increase in new customers.

•Business is "booming" at the estimated 7,000 shoe repair shops in the US, according to John McLoughlin, president of the Shoe Service Institute of America. "At some shops, you have to wait three or four weeks, which ordinarily is just unheard-of," he says.

•Shops around California's Bay Area – from vacuum, bicycle, and watch repair to cobblers and secondhand clothing stores – report sales growing or holding firm in one of the toughest times for retailers in recent memory.

"This week has been really good," says Anne Hartford, owner of Maribel, an Oakland store selling used designer clothes. She hasn't seen a drop in sales from the previous year, while two of her friends who run other businesses have been forced to close shop recently.

Though many thrift stores and secondhand shops are thriving, they nonetheless operate on the economic margins. That can be a difficult place to be when it comes to regulation. The federal Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act that goes into effect Feb. 10, for instance, requires businesses that sell children's products to prove that their wares meet safety standards for lead content. Initially, that included resale, thrift, and consignment stores, who objected on grounds that they could not afford to test all the items from all the manufacturers whose products landed on their shelves.

The stores would have had "to clean out their inventory [of children's products] because they have no way of proving that it's below the lead standard," says Adele Meyer, NARTS executive director.

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