The Gift of Thrift
Secondhand thriftstores offer savings while helping the needy.
By F H Love
Published November, 2006
The two men carried the rattan-like sofa from the truck into the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store on Dixie Highway in Pompano Beach. Before the couch legs touched the floor, a lifelong customer began negotiations. A few short minutes later, she sealed the deal. For $50 plus tax, she owned the gently used sofa with the print cushions, along with the matching chair and end table.
That's how fast inventory can turn over.
Store manager Johnny Mae Singletary described some of the fast sellers. "Beds are a big thing," she said, referring to mattress and box spring sets. Televisions are "gone in two or three days. Microwaves, stoves and refrigerators are hot items. As for a crib, as soon as it comes through the door, it goes right back out." Besides furniture, which accounts for up to 50 percent of the $10,000 a month in sales, the 3,500-square-foot store carries housewares, toys, books, linens, bikes, electronics, clothes and even one or two cars a month. A customer may even find a wedding dress, golf clubs or a wheelchair.
The store’s inventory is the secret to its success. Like any other store, St. Vincent de Paul also concerns itself with pricing, customer service and staffing, but the business model that drives it is based on the kindness of strangers and community service.
That's what appealed to Yazno, a recent hire. "What caught my eye was the way we're able to help people," she said. "It's just awesome." The Pompano Beach store, off Copans Road, relies entirely on donations to fill the shelves. Some are dropped off at the nearby warehouse. Others come in through Catholic parishes. A truck picks up furniture and appliances from people's homes three times a day, Tuesday through Saturday. Smaller items work their way into the sorting room, where volunteer Josephine Murphy spends most of her time sorting and pricing piles of clothes and linens. She's been a Vincention since 1983, long enough to remember pricing blouses for 25 cents. Now they go for $2.95. She and just three other employees get through the loads of donations one way: "We depend on volunteers."
One woman comes in on Wednesdays and does nothing but sort socks. Another advises on antiques. Others organize electronics. With only 6 volunteers, the store always needs more. The clothes move from the sorting room to racks and then to fixtures in the store. Many are organized by color for efficient shopping. All the navy blues hang together, as do the grays and the browns and the tans. Blue children's shirts stay separate from red ones. Michelle and her sister, Anna, recently found clothes for her 7-month-old son. It was their first time in the store. "We just saw it driving by the other day," they said.
Most customers find the store that way or through word of mouth. Little money exists for advertising because any money generated from the store is earmarked for a higher purpose: helping out those in need in Broward County. The store provides clothing, food and other things to people who come in with a voucher from one of the 12 parish conferences that make up the North Broward Council of St. Vincent de Paul or from a recognized charity. Though a Catholic organization runs the stores, religion does not define who gets help. "We give a lot of clothing away," manager Johnnie Mae said. "That's one of the main things people need. I love the idea that it comes in and it goes out to help the community." For the store's fiscal year 2005 - Oct. 1, 2004, through Sept. 30, 2005 - the amount of the goods supplied free of charge through vouchers was over $20,000, according to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul North Broward District Council President Frank Voehl. And the Society's food pantry operations, which is run entirely by local church volunteers, handed out over $100,000 in food and Publix certificates.
The pantries is stocked with food brought by the churchgoers and through donations to the two North Broward Thrift Stores, the one on Dixie Highway and a newer botique store at 165 East Hillsboro Blvd in Deerfield Beach. Plans include opening one or two additional stores in North Broward in 2007, according to President Frank Voehl. The first one may come as early as the spring. When four stores are up and running and providing a source of funding, the Society has bigger plans. Voehl’s business plan for 2007 spells it out: Visions of a soup kitchen by 2010.
For more information, call the SVDP Dixie Highway Thrift Store at (954) 942-2242 or the Hillsboro Blvd botique at (954) 360-9872.