How to shop 'till you drop for a living (and fight retirement)

How to shop 'till you drop for a living (and fight retirement)The unemployment stats from the recent Pew Research Center report sound dire -- young adults and minorities hit hardest, middle-aged men pushed out of the marketplace, older Americans working into their sunset years -- but there's always an upside. So for inspiration I've been talking to some seniors who are fighting retirement -- and loving it.

When the flooring company 68-year-old Sally Hameister worked for downsized in 2008, she turned a lifelong passion for clothes into a new career. She spent exactly four idle months before son Scott called and said, "I have the most amazing idea ..."

To her own surprise, Sally now buys and resells used designer clothes at Portland, Oregon's Vintage Pink, a thrift store mall featuring 22 vendors, including Scott, who has a knack for for discovering unwanted gems among discarded furniture. ("In a sea of shit, I can pick out something valuable," he says).

Despite knowing nothing about the industry, Sally jumped right in. "I am always ready for a new adventure," she says, "plus, I have way too much energy to sit around."

That spirit has always guided her work life. After working as a flight attendant for United "back when it was glamorous," she became a military wife and stay-at-home mom who fed her "clothesaholic" addiction with stints in boutiques. When her marriage ended, her organizational and people skills led her to the hospitality industry, first as a hotel concierge, then as the director of the Pagosa Springs, Colorado Chamber of Commerce before moving to Portland in 2004.

Some people might have retired then, but the company refinishing the floors in her new house was so taken with her cheerleader enthusiasm that they offered her a job as an office manager. "The only thing I knew about floors was that you walk on them," she says, "but the director of the company said, 'We need someone to be the face of our company and I want you to be that face."

These same skills convinced Scott his mother would be ideal for vintage resale. As his sister Courtenay, host of Live Wire Radio, explains it, "This job combines three of my mother's favorite things: shopping, ironing and talking to people."

That said, it's been an adjustment. As a self-professed "label whore," Sally has always valued quality, particularly in her favorite designer, Ralph Lauren. ("The Ralph has never let me down.") But a vintage veteran told her that if she wanted to succeed in the resale business, she'd have to "elbow around with the dirty people."

Sally won't reveal her sources, but she's been amazed that "most people don't know what they're getting rid of." By way of example, she shows off a satin and lace Christian Dior -- Saks Fifth Avenue nightgown. It's in pristine condition now that she's cleaned and ironed it. "It probably cost hundreds of dollars."

Of course Sally found it for a fraction of the cost and will sell it at a considerable profit while still giving her customer a bargain. She smiles. "It's the most pleasurable recycling you'll ever do."

Like her dresses, Sally has found a new life. "Every day is so different. It's never static," she says, "I just love that I found a new way to reinvent myself."

And that, my friends, is The Upside.

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