Thrifty Shoppers Suffer for Saftey

The crib was gone, the little denim skirt that hung downstairs a few weeks ago was now in the trash can in the alleyway, along with the classic alphabet book Chika Chika Boom Boom and a Nancy Drew paperback. The shelves of the children’s corner of the Second Hand Store in Edgartown were empty this week. Boxes of brand new kids’ T-shirts, just donated from the nearby gift shop that has gone out of business, remain in storage, sealed away from parents and tourists who surely would have taken them home, leaving the profits for the Martha’s Vineyard Boys’ and Girls’ Club, which operates the second hand store. Vineyard Haven’s Thrift Shop was cleaned out of kids’ stuff too.

It’s the law. It’s a new federal scheme designed to protect children from the devastating consequences of lead poisoning, which can impair growth and hearing, cause learning difficulties and even brain damage. After toys manufactured in China were found to contain dangerous lead levels last year, terrifying parents, the federal government acted swiftly with new consumer protections.

The new law aims to hold manufacturers and big box stores accountable for what they sell. Probably unintentionally, it holds second-hand stores to the same standards. Anyone who sells, or even gives away, children’s items found to contain lead will suffer steep financial penalties.

This at a time when thrift stores nationwide reported a thirty-five per cent increase in business in October and November last year compared to the previous year. Goodwill stores alone saw a record million-dollar month in their October sales report. Across the country, shoppers are turning to second-hand stores, as Vineyarders have for so long and continue to do. Kids grow too fast out of skates, coats and the myriad necessities often difficult to buy here, not least because of the high cost of living. So parents peruse those thrift shop kids corners, now vacant, routinely. As they learn of their loss, parents will be dismayed and angry.

Thrift shops should have been exempted from the law, provided they alert shoppers to the potential danger of lead. But the stores were not exempted.

Federal lawmakers may yet be forced by consumers to reconsider the unintended consequences of this clumsy consumer protection law. Maybe then those boxes of new T-shirts could be unsealed in Edgartown, and parents can pick one up when they drop off those too-small soccer cleats.

Otherwise, the child protection law may see some kids missing out on important opportunities, not to mention treats, in a misfired attempt to keep them safe.