Minnesotans have been talking on social media about cleaning out garages and closets during the state's stay-home order. As thrift stores and consignment-shop owners have opened up, record amounts of donations are evidence of this.

The question store managers are now asking is if people will be as enthusiastic about buying used goods during the pandemic.

"I don't have a crystal ball, but I think it will be just fine," said Molly King, marketing manager for Arc's Value Village with three suburban stores that opened on Saturday. "A lot of people's bank accounts and budgets have been affected so they look to thrifts."

Brent Babcock, chief sales and marketing officer at Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota, agrees. Goodwill on Monday will open its 51 locations for both shopping and donations.

"There is pent-up demand for people to donate and shop," he said. "Economics have changed. More people are unemployed or making less. Thrift goods are an inexpensive alternative."

Still, there is a chance that some people will change behaviors based on their ideas of disease prevention, said Vlad Griskevicius, professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management.

"Buying used clothes will activate thoughts of contagion and disgust in some people, while others won't care," he said.

Emma Jackson of Minneapolis, who shopped at Value Village in Richfield on Wednesday, said she felt a comfort level of 6 out of 10 as she looked for summer clothes.

"I'm a little concerned about things contaminated by the pandemic," she said, "but I can wash it when I get home."

Researchers have found that the virus can stay on some surfaces for up to three days, but the study did not include fabric.

"So far, evidence suggests that it's harder to catch the virus from a soft surface [such as fabric] than it is from frequently touched hard surfaces like elevator buttons or door handles," wrote Lisa Maragakis, senior director of infection prevention at the Johns Hopkins Health System in Baltimore.

To maintain safety, some secondhand stores such as Goodwill and Salvation Army are limiting the number of customers to only 25% of capacity instead of the required 50% maximum for social distancing. Many are requiring masks of employees and customers.

Arc's Value Village's touchless checkout asks customers to hold up price tags at the register for scanning for the cashier. Dressing rooms are closed until further notice.

Twin Cities Salvation Army, which operates 10 locations including a new store opening June 6 in Blaine, is quarantining its donations for at least 72 hours.

Local consignment shop Fashion Avenue in Edina, open since May 18, has seen traffic about half of normal levels. Its dressing rooms are open, but co-owner Lee Weisman said his high-end apparel shop is steaming any unpurchased items left in dressing rooms and sterilizing the dressing room after each customer.

"Clothes are steamed at high temperatures to kill germs," he said. Fashion Avenue's longtime policy requires consigned items to be dry cleaned or washed and pressed before acceptance.

Those who want to shop in secondhand stores will find the best selection in years, the stores said.

"Spring cleaning overlapped with stay-at-home, so we're getting five times as many donations in half the time," said King of Arc's Value Village. "We've had so many donations that the stores reached capacity almost immediately so we had to cut the hours of donations."

Babcock of Goodwill said not only will there be new donations, but also the spring, summer and cabin merchandise hasn't yet been shopped.

"There couldn't be a better time to shop thrift than now," he said.

Traffic at Wayzata furniture consignment store Wabi Sabi has been brisk since reopening May 20.

"We're surprised and delighted by the sales numbers," said owner Kay Frandsen. "I'm hoping this will continue."

To ensure customers' safety, Frandsen is quarantining consigned items for a week, spraying upholstery with Steri-fab disinfectant and wiping down hardgoods with a water-bleach solution. Employees' temperatures are taken, and sanitizing stations have been set up around the store.

Some thrift stores are hedging their bets beyond brick and mortar. Old School by Steeple People in Minneapolis hasn't reopened but plans to try online sales within the next two weeks.

"Well over 90% of our customers surveyed said they are interested in online sales," said board member Anne Lippin.

Goodwill, too, is putting more resources toward its online site.

Arc's Value Village is beefing up its offerings on eBay and Craigslist. Its popular personal-shopper program has now expanded to Zoom and FaceTime with items delivered curbside or shipped.

Bridging, which closed its thrift store years ago, has not resumed its in-home pickup service of used home goods to be donated and then distributed to the needy. Its fee-based curbside or garage pickup service has a one-month wait, but donations can be dropped off at its locations in Bloomington and Roseville during business hours.

Donors may still experience wait times as drive-up sites slowly reopen. Although some have waited in their vehicles for two hours to donate at Arc's Value Village, waits were slightly less than an hour in Richfield on Wednesday.

"We think it will subside soon," said King.

John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633