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Franchise store buys, sells used clothes and accessories for teen, young adult market

Plato's Closet

What: A buy-and-sell-based used clothing store catering to 13- to 26-year-old females and males

Where: 200 N.W. Burnside Road, Gresham

Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday


Call: 503-786-9922

PMG PHOTO: SHANNON O. WELLS - Joanna Beall, Platos Closet district manager, and franchise owner George Merkl show off merchandise at their newly relocated used clothing store at 200 N.W. Burnside Road. Featuring brands like Abercrombie & Fitch, Guess, Victoria's Secret, Charlotte Russe and American Eagle, the new Plato's Closet store in Gresham caters to fashionable youths who like to dress and accessorize in the hippest, most cutting-edge styles out there.

At Plato's, however, terms like hip, fashionable and cutting edge don't add up to exclusive. In fact, making current fashions accessible to as many backgrounds and income levels as possible is key to the store's mission.

"A great deal of teens have to pay for their own clothing. More families are struggling," says Joanna Beall, Plato's Closet district manager. "This makes styles and brands accessible no matter what your financial status is. It allows everyone the same opportunity to access these brands and good quality of clothes — at 70% off the (regular retail) price."

Franchise owner George Merkl relocated Plato's Closet in May from its location at Southeast 82nd Avenue to a 250-square-foot space at 200 N.W. Burnside Road, Gresham, in the shopping plaza containing Wonderland and Red Lobster. So far, the change has been nothing but positive.

"We've felt welcomed with open arms," Beall said.

In fact, the excitement of customers, some of whom shopped at the Clackamas location, can be visceral.

"Sometimes it's overwhelming. They're so positive some are squealing," Merkl admitted. "One girl came in with her mother and found these designer sunglasses she'd been looking for. Oh my gosh, it just made her day that we were selling glasses for a third of what she'd been saving."

PMG PHOTO: SHANNON O. WELLS - From left, Platos Closet Shift Manager Brianna Beavers, buyer Karina Dziamidovich and District Manager Joanna Beall have fun while arranging merchandise on a recent Tuesday afternoon. Plato's focuses on the 13- to 26-year-old market of boys, girls, young men and women.

"It's the stuff you see in malls — Victoria's Secret, American Eagle, Forever 21, PacSun — those types of stores," Merkl said. "When we sell, it's 60-70% less than the same brand in the mall. We're also buying products from the community. The inventory you see on the racks is from the same community. We pay cash. It's not a consignment shop."

Plato's takes an efficient, well-tested approach to buying and selling merchandise.

"People bring items in — clothing and accessories — they check them in and we go through what they want to sell," Merkl explained. "When we're finished going through we send a text message and share what we can buy. We can give them cash on the spot. They can decline (the offer). And some take (some) other items back."

Items are rejected based on how current they are, and of course their condition.

"Some (items) may be too sophisticated for the store, have a stain on it, or it's from more than 18 months ago and is not current," Merkl said. "We always give a reason. A lot of the items are not only current but in very good condition. Some even come in with new tags.

"When we buy, we pay roughly a third of what we sell it for," he added. "If we want to sell an item for $9, we will pay the individual $3, or to sell for $15, we would give the seller $5."

PMG PHOTO: SHANNON O. WELLS - Oregon City resident Megan Smith checks out shirts and sweaters in the young women's section of Platos Closet in Gresham. Most dresses and jackets in Plato's Closet cost $8 to $12; tank tops go for $3 to $8; non-designer shoes $10 to $19; and more casual shoes $8 to $16. The most expensive in the store on Tuesday, June 11, was a Coach designer backpack for $45.

"The average customer spends around $40 to $50 and goes home with a handful of stuff," said Assistant Manager Marilyn Santos, adding that regular customers are already established at the new store. "Especially our (business employee) neighbors, they come in a lot. And there's new items on the floor all the time."

Merkl, a resident of Vancouver, Washington, bought the Plato's franchise on 82nd and another location in Vancouver in June 2017. While the Vancouver location flourished, the 82nd store was replete with shoplifting and other crime-related problems from the get-go. (see sidebar)

Moving to the Gresham space has so far proved a positive development for Merkl, his employees and customers old and new.

"We had a lot of customers coming from this area to the (82nd Avenue) store, from Gresham, Troutdale, Fairview, Sandy," Merkl said. "The more we looked in the (Gresham) area, we were hearing from the community, 'Oh, my gosh. We would love to have a Plato's!' We've had a very warm, open greeting here."PMG PHOTO: SHANNON O. WELLS - Joanna Beall and George Merkl pride themselves on their efficient, fair approach to sorting and pricing used clothing and accessories customers bring in to sell at Platos Closet.

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