Thrift stores Mars Mercantile, Buffalo Exchange adapt to economic situations amid pandemic

Photo of a merchandise rack in Buffalo Exchange
Ireland Wagner/File
According to a company statement, the Berkeley location of Buffalo Exchange closed due to financial impacts of the pandemic and the decreased number of returning university students, but customers can continue to buy, sell and trade clothes at Buffalo Exchange's two San Francisco locations.

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Despite the pandemic, thrift store Mars Mercantile often has a line around the corner, but another thrift store on the same street, Buffalo Exchange, closed its Telegraph Avenue location permanently.

The Telegraph store was the first Buffalo Exchange to open in California, but it closed due to financial impacts of the pandemic and the decreased number of returning university student customers, according to a statement from Buffalo Exchange. Closing the store was a “heartbreaking” decision, it adds, as the store was beloved in the community.

“We will miss our customers immensely – we’re very grateful for the time, love, humor and amazing fashion they’ve put into our store,” the statement reads. “We hope to be back one day!”

Many students, such as campus junior Genesis Alejo, used to spend hours looking through clothes at Buffalo Exchange. Alejo said she loved the store and will remember it for its affordable clothing and “cute vibe.”

According to the statement, customers can continue to buy, sell and trade clothes at Buffalo Exchange’s two San Francisco locations, as well as through Sell By Mail, an online program in which customers can request a bag to fill with clothes to sell.

Another popular thrift store on Telegraph, Mars Mercantile, has not been as severely impacted by the pandemic and is “doing pretty good,” according to Mars Mercantile supervisor Jo Call. Call added that the store mainly focuses on buying surplus vintage clothing from warehouses.

“I’ve been working here this entire time with my mask on and I haven’t gotten sick, regardless of the fact that there are a lot of people coming through,” Call said.

The store implemented new health and safety features, including closing its fitting rooms, having an employee at the front door to limit the number of customers to 11 at one time and completing thorough sanitation.

According to Call, Mars Mercantile lowered its prices to adjust to the economic impact of the pandemic, as many people are unemployed and cannot afford the usual prices.

Call added that many groups of friends go to Mars Mercantile as a social opportunity.

“Shopping here is a really good way to have social time with someone that you care about but also stay safe,” Call said. “The atmosphere in here is just so fun that it’s something you want to do as a social activity.”

Mars Mercantile is hoping to raise its prices again and open fitting rooms once it is safe to do so.

Call added that Mars Mercantile is also looking forward to its usual rush of customers coming to look for their “gaudy and colorful” clothing for parties.

Dina Katgara is the lead business and economy reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @dinakatgara.