How to Design a Thrift Store

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Thrift stores suffer from an identity problem. People often perceive them as dirty, untidy and sometimes unsanitary. It does not have to be that way. You can design a thrift store that is inviting and beautiful -- the kind of space that people are happy to return to. Think about what kind of experience you want a shopper to have in your store. Remember always to keep customers in mind by putting yourself in the shoppers' shoes: What will make them feel welcome? What kind of atmosphere will encourage them to buy, and to return?

The Floor Plan

Draw the floor plan.
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Measure the interior space of the store, from front to back and side to side. Include any irregular spaces such as hallways, offices and bathrooms.

Sketch the floor plan for your store using the graph paper. Leave about 8 to 10 feet of clear space around the front door. Shoppers usually turn slightly to the right upon entering a store, so design your layout in a general horseshoe shape that leads customers through the space.

The cashier should have a clear view of the front of the store.
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Draw in the areas where displays will be placed. Aisles that are at least 4 feet wide are usually comfortable for customers. If possible, allow for the cash-handling area to be near the center or on the left wall of the store. Make sure the cashier will have a clear view of the front door.

Install lighting that highlights areas within the space. Make sure the back areas are especially well lit to help invite browsers to the back of the store. Track lighting or spotlights enhance the visual appeal of merchandise.

Paint the walls a soft, neutral color. You want the appearance of the space to be clean, so avoid gray or beige. A soft white or pale pastel may appeal to browsers.


Be sure to provide seating in the area where you're selling shoes.
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Stock the shelves and racks neatly. Clothing should be hung according to size and style. Children's, women's and men's items should be clearly separated. Shoes do best on wall racks or low tables. If you sell shoes, make sure to provide seating.

Group household items by function. For example, kitchen items may be placed together. You may also group items by color or size. If many of the items you deal with are vintage, you may also consider placing these items together.

Hang decorative items or art on the walls. All decorative items should be clearly marked for sale, so expect that wall displays will change frequently.

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Decorate your front windows to reflect the merchandise in the store. Windows should always be sparkling clean and displays should be updated seasonally. Avoid paper or hand-written signs in your windows.

An often-overlooked part of store design is aroma, so spray a pleasing scent near the front door. A clean, fresh smell reassures customers that the merchandise is also clean and fresh. Make sure the whole store is kept clean and odor-free.


  • Many communities have free local small-business-assistance programs. Some offer incentives such as facade grants, sign grants or tax abatements. Make sure to contact the municipality where you plan to open to inquire about incentive programs.


  • Always check local zoning ordinances before investing in any business; some locales may restrict thrift stores. Thrift stores are often located in older buildings. If you are considering an older building for your store, make sure the electricity and plumbing are adequate for your needs. Also make sure that there is no old, flaking paint, asbestos or other potentially hazardous substance before you begin.



About the Author

A certified personal trainer, Mary Lee began writing about fitness and health topics in 2001. Her work appeared regularly in "The Facts" for more than eight years, as well as in other print and online publications. Lee holds an M.A. in English from the University of Houston.

Photo Credits

  • Yamini Chao/Digital Vision/Getty Images