When Mary Duffy bought her house in Alfred in May 2020, she couldn’t figure out how to furnish it.
It’s not that Duffy couldn’t afford to shop around, or didn’t have a keen eye for interior decorating — it was that so many of the big box retailers and furniture websites were low on supply.
Supply chain shortages of everything from furniture to appliances have plagued shoppers in Maine and beyond. Instead of giving up and waiting for the global market to right itself, though, Duffy did what many Mainers have decided to do: shop for second-hand and used goods. Even experienced secondhand sellers have noticed an increased demand as the pandemic disrupted the supply chain.
“I always had an interest in antiques. I started this summer going to estate sales to try to furnish myself,” Duffy said.
Duffy took her secondhand shopping one step further and, in fall of 2021, started restoring antique furniture to resell, as both a hobby and a side hustle in response to the increased demand for secondhand furniture.
“I do notice from my customers that there’s definitely demand for storage pieces, bookcases, dining tables and chairs,” Duffy said. “Those seem to be perennially really popular items.”
Mark Bolduc, owner of Mark’s Appliances in Glenburn, has been selling used appliances since 1983. He said that though the demand for used appliances — particularly refrigerators, ranges, washers and dryers — has leveled out compared with the scramble he saw at the beginning of the pandemic, the past few years have been good for his business.
“I have been getting a lot of customers because of the lack of supply,” Bolduc said.
The problem, though, was that his inventory — which relies not only on individuals supplying used items, but also warehouses of past seasons’ appliances that were never purchased — also took a hit.
“There’s not as much as there used to be, but there’s still plenty for me to be able to pick from and resell,” Bolduc said.
One of the biggest shifts for Bolduc, in addition to the increased demand, was the number of appliances that he sold online.
“I’ll send a picture of the outside of the unit, inside of the unit and negotiate a price over the phone,” Bolduc said. “I didn’t do that quite as much prior to the pandemic.”
It’s not only the folks who make a living on secondhand goods who are seeing the shift. Buy, sell and trade groups on Facebook have seen a flurry of activity as people jockey for high-demand goods that have been choked up by the supply chain.
Christopher Lord, administrator for the Facebook group Northern Maine Marketplace, said that his group has seen growth over the last year.
“I can tell you that I’ve seen anywhere from 30 to 50 new members per week — which isn’t a bad rate of growth, considering that the group serves a smaller, more rural northern area of Maine,” Lord said.
He has noticed users posting more vehicles for sale, including trucks, cars and snowmobiles.
“Given that costs have risen for both new and used vehicles, I suspect the supply chain does have some effect on the group member’s purchasing behaviors,” Lord said. “Just looking at the rate of which people have been seeking used vehicles via these groups leads me to believe as such.”
Bara Grupper, one of the administrators for the Facebook group Ellsworth, Maine Area Barter/Swap/Sell, has also noticed bigger ticket second-hand items selling through their group, from cars and high-end jewelry to household items, including coffee makers, pressure washers and furniture.
“The quality of the items are far better than usual,” Grupper said. “People [are] either making money downsizing to keep up with bills or selling items they do not use as much.”
Heather Marie Rickard, another administrator of the Facebook group, said that the biggest thing she has noticed in that group and others that she moderates is people asking for more money for used goods, often “asking a lot more [than] something is really worth.”
“That’s one thing I have noticed, which can be understandable with a lot of people losing their jobs last year,” Rickard said. “Everyone is just trying to survive.”