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SVDP thrift stores offer help in hard economic times

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Friday, September 4, 2009

By Eileen Connelly, OSU

ARCHDIOCESE — In today’s economy, everyone can use a good bargain.

The six Society of St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Stores in Greater Cincinnati not only provide low or no-cost items to our neighbors in need, but also great deals for all budget-conscious shoppers. And, area residents who donate items can feel good knowing that by cleaning out their closets, attics or garages, they are truly helping others.

The demographics of thrift store shoppers are “all over the board,” said Prentice Carter, director of operations for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP) of Greater Cincinnati, an employer of 110, including thrift store personnel.

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A 19th-century mandolin is one of the treasures donated to the Mt. Washington Thrift Store. (CT/Eileen Connelly, OSU)

There are some individuals and families who are truly destitute and need basic household items, clothing or furniture. They are issued vouchers by SVDP enabling them to “purchase” items from the thrift stores at no charge. Many regular customers are those on fixed incomes, either the elderly or people who are employed but not earning enough to shop for the necessities at full-price stores. “Then you have people who are looking for a good bargain or hunting for treasures,” Carter said.

Most of the thrift store donations come from the general public — people who are downsizing, cleaning out their attic or garage — along with estate sales. A small percentage of donations are received from local businesses, Carter said. Donations are accepted at individual stores and truck pick-up service is also available.

“We have a large variety of goods and I’ve seen everything donated from sale boats to caskets,” he said. “We get a lot of furniture and household goods. Clothing takes up more floor space than anything else.”

“We do our best to  offer all we can to our customers because so many people are in need of low-cost, serviceable items,” Carter said. “We cast off items that are defective, stained, torn, etc…but attempt to sell everything serviceable in our stores first. Even if an item is worn but serviceable, we’ll try to pass it along. Many customers with tight budgets and clients with vouchers are happy to acquire worn but usable items as they struggle to financially survive.”

“Shoes and clothing graded below our standards are sold on the rag market with end-consumers in Africa,” he continued. “Bad items must be disposed of at our cost. Most of the items sold on the rag market are then cleaned and repaired and sold for wear in the less fortunate areas of the world.”

Pricing varies, Carter noted, with clothing for example, marked at $4.49 or less. Customers may find golf clubs for $1 each, a pair of fuzzy slippers for $2 or a glass end table for $25. There are weekly sales at each store and a color rotation system puts a certain color category on sale daily. Terry Seymour, who runs the truck department at the Este Avenue Superstore, said most items are priced at one-third the cost of at other stores.

“We get some nice stuff,” Seymour said. “People in Cincinnati are very generous. They donate anything and everything. One guy donated his entire wood shop that was worth $800.”

A recent Wednesday afternoon found Priscilla Baldwin at the Este Avenue store searching for bargains to help her granddaughter furnish her first apartment. She was thrilled to find a Venetian blind, lampshade, kitchen storage bin and decorative metal towel rack among the deals that day. She shops at the store two three times a week, saying,  “I like the prices and the products.”

Bernita Reliford a weekly shopper, has also discovered great deals at the Este Avenue store. After her patio furniture was damaged during last fall’s wind storm, she found an eight-piece set to replace it for $40. “I was like a little kid at Christmas, I was so excited,”  she said.

Reliford, who needed a walker to get around after knee surgery in January, priced the item online for $79, then checked the thrift store and found one for just $5. “This is the place to shop,” she said. “Sometimes you really have to look, but it’s worth it.”

North of Cincinnati at SVDP’s Mason Thrift Store, the newest location opened since May 2008, Jane Rother was perusing the used book section. Dressed in a cheery green and white checked summer blouse and shorts that she purchased at the thrift store for $4.49, Rother said, “I really like the selection.”

A monthly thrift store shopper, Rother said the low cost goods were of great benefit to member of her church (West Chester Wesleyan) who was in need of household items, clothing and furniture after her home was destroyed by a fire. “The store was a huge help to her,” Rother said.

A few aisles away, Terri Sutton, who works close to the Mason store and visits twice weekly, was searching for treasures. “I shop at all the stores,” she admitted. “I collect just about everything. I’ve found salt and pepper shakers from Coney Island here, old glass bottles and Coca-Cola and Cracker Jack memorabilia. I like finding things that remind me of my childhood. Coming here gives me a sense of nostalgia.”

Although smaller than its Este Avenue and Mason counterparts, the clean, well-organized atmosphere appeals to the customers at the Mt. Washington location, said Tami Schrichten, store manager.

Among the clothes, shoes, purses and decorative items that are regularly donated, there have also been a couple of treasures that really stood out, Schrichten said — a pair of gold drop Tiffany earrings and a 19th-century mandolin. Research indicates the antique musical instrument may be worth between $2,000-$3,000, said Schrichten, and efforts are underway to find an outlet to sell it to that will be of the most benefit to SVDP’s charitable efforts.

When antiques, collectables or other high value items, such as the mandolin are donated, the stores use the Internet to compare values then price the items to sell, Carter said.

The Mt. Washington Thrift Store will soon be relocating to 2300 Beechmont Ave., nearly tripling its size, Carter said. He anticipates the move will be complete by October.

Donations to the thrift stores truly help those in need, said Schrichten with 91 percent of the profits going back into helping the community.

“Every store is a charity center,” Carter said. “We’re on target to redeem $450, 000 in vouchers for the current fiscal year, and on target for $3.5 million in charity.”

“We do our best to resell/redistribute items via vouchers all serviceable items to all our communities throughout Cincinnati,” he added. “People who donate can feel good knowing their contribution really goes to help their neighbors in need. In all areas where our stores are located, you will find many people struggling to make ends meet and who depend on our offering of household goods and clothing.”

Call 513-421-CARE to schedule a pick up of furniture or household goods, or drop off donations at any St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store.

Eileen Connelly, OSU, can be reached at [email protected].

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