Students converge on thrift stores

Jessica Larrson of London, with help from her mother, Barbara, found furniture at Cheap Chic in Allston.
Essdras M Suarez/Globe STaff
Jessica Larrson of London, with help from her mother, Barbara, found furniture at Cheap Chic in Allston.

When it comes to furniture, Boston University senior Shaman Kothari knows what he is looking for: It has to be cheap and — if possible — kind of cool.

“I like good deals,” he said after snagging a gently used combination dresser and desk on wheels for $20 at Cheap Chic in Allston Monday. “You don’t really find things like this in department stores or Ikea.”

Like thousands of other college students flooding the Boston area for fall semester, Kothari spent time this week scouring used-furniture stores and thrift shops to furnish his apartment. Shop owners say it is a crucial selling period for them, and they spend months gearing up for the influx of bargain hunters.


Chris Silvera, manager of Cheap Chic in Allston, said there is plenty of competition for students’ business, so the right prices and selection are crucial. Since before Labor Day, he has been swamped by students looking to fill spartan apartments with bureaus, chairs, sofas, and desks.

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“It’s a lot of work,” said Silvera, who increased his staff from about 4 to 10 this month to accommodate the rush. “All day long I have two teams of two guys in a truck doing deliveries from around 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.”

This month’s business pattern on the used-furniture circuit is the reverse of what happens in spring, when students leaving town seek to unload belongings they don’t want to lug back home.

“It comes in waves,” said Julie Parker, manager of the MIT Furniture Exchange, a nonprofit secondhand store open to the communities of Harvard University, Boston University, Suffolk University, and MIT. “We say it’s the quick and the dead — the furniture comes in and it goes out.”

Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff
Tim Briggs, who works for Basics Carpet & Furniture in Allston, loaded a box spring for delivery.

Like the MIT Furniture Exchange, Unique Furnishings Boston, on Harvard Avenue, also gets repeat furniture.


“If you keep it clean, I buy it back,” said Amir Zoka, the store’s general manager. Labor Day weekend, he said, wiped out his inventory. “The store right now is empty.”

Zoka and Silvera both said they typically purchase furniture for about one-third of the resale price.

James Harder, a spokesman for Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries, said this is an especially busy time for the nonprofit’s thrift stores in areas with large clusters of students such as Allston, Somerville, Cambridge, and Jamaica Plain.

“[Boston] has more than 150,000 college students, and those are people who really love thrift: They’re always looking for some way to stretch their dollar,” Harder said.

On Sunday, Northeastern University student Ben Eberhardt moved from a furnished apartment he was subletting to an unfurnished space in Brookline Village. That’s why he was out shopping for furniture along the strip of Harvard Avenue between Brighton and Commonwealth avenues, home to several used-furniture stores.


“It was kind of a madhouse,” he said.

Boston’s college students ‘really love thrift, they’re always looking for some way to stretch their dollar.’

Eberhardt was looking for communal furniture, such as a dining table, as well as personal pieces like a desk and bureau. (He wound up buying a table and bureau). Aesthetically and financially, he said, buying used made the most sense.

“We knew we’d get stuff that was cheap and unique, so we decided to go that route,” he said.

Emily Overholt can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @emilyoverholt.