Tax-Break Fervor Swamps Thrift Stores

Times Staff Writer

Cindy Bertematti was one of hundreds of people heading to area thrift stores Tuesday to unload forgettable fashions and creaky furniture in hopes of landing a tax deduction before the year's end.

Outside a Goodwill Industries store in Canoga Park, Bertematti said she gives away unwanted items every year, including a 1994 Pontiac Grand Am a few years ago that she said saved her thousands of dollars in taxes.

"It helps people buy affordable goods and helps us as taxpayers at the same time," said the Winnetka resident, standing near a long line of cars waiting to drop off used clothes, books, household appliances and toys.

Some stores reported 10 times their usual business Tuesday, bringing in merchandise that will keep shelves stocked through the winter months.

"Everyone is coming at the last minute," said Edson Mazariegos, manager of the National Council of Jewish Women thrift store in Canoga Park. "We usually get 30 to 35 donors a day, but we're seeing 75 to 100 today."

One was Alyson Lyons, who made several trips in her minivan packed with the belongings of her recently deceased mother.

"She had shoes that were still in their Nordstrom boxes and had never touched the floor," Lyons said.

The store had to close two hours early at 3 p.m. when it ran out of receipt slips and space. Piles of donations were stacked halfway up the walls in the storeroom, but only about half will be worth reselling, Mazariegos said.

"If you won't give it to a relative or a friend, don't give it to Goodwill," said Christine Nyirjesy Bragale, spokeswoman for Goodwill Industries International Inc. "We don't want it if it's soiled, damaged or recalled."

Out of the Closet Thrift Stores in Los Angeles, which sell used clothing and goods to raise money for its parent organization, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, experiences a 10% to 20% increase in donations in December, said Ian Killips, director of marketing.

"Most who give to us are people who institutionally are thinking of others at this time of the year," he said. "The income tax deductibility is an attractive incentive."

At some Orange County thrift stores, donations doubled, with items ranging from cars to kitchen appliances.

"We have almost no business on Christmas Eve, but it's been pretty consistently busy today," said Pamela Thomas, manager of Salvation Army Thrift Stores in Anaheim. "Our trucks are getting full so fast today that we barely have enough time to empty them out. But it's like that each year on New Year's Eve, because everyone wants that last-minute tax-deduction receipt."

The number of people packing thrift stores on the last day of the year did not surprise Victor Omelczenko, a Los Angeles-based spokesman for the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS allows taxpayers to take deductions for items donated to federally recognized charities.

"People are trying to bring deductions into the current taxable year and showing their generous spirit," he said. "The important thing is to keep good records."

If audited by the IRS, taxpayers must show itemized receipts from legitimate charities for their donated goods.


Times staff writers Steve Berry and Vivian LeTran contributed to this report.

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