Bargains galore at the Thrift Shop -August 2019

by: Lucy Turnipseed

photography by: Nicole Harnishfeger

Shelves stocked with old books. Linen sheets. Glassware enough to stock a restaurant. A single plastic mannequin. Countless miniature bells. A pair of nearly-new Jimmy Choo shoes, priced at only $30, snatched up almost immediately. Great finds.

“We are the ultimate recycling agent on the island,” Hospital Thrift Shop volunteer and board president Brenda Williams said.

The thrift shop opened for the season May 13, completely full. When it closes Oct. 18, it will most likely be completely empty. In July, every shelfspace, rack, basket, bin and wall held goods that people could not wait to poke through.

“We have shoppers who come every day, sometimes twice a day, because they know we’re always putting out new things,” manager Mary Casey said.

The thrift shop’s hallmark is offering interesting finds at drastically-reduced prices, Casey said. The shop sells clothing, art, furniture and knick-knacks at prices as low as 25 cents.

One night in June, with rain coming down, several people were waiting in line before the doors even opened for the thrift shop’s twice-weekly evening hours. It was an unusual time of day for the store to be open and less-than-ideal shopping weather. The customers were just eager to get into the thick of it.

Inside, board member Liz Winship organizes the front gift room aesthetically, while long-time volunteer Joan Holdgate personally washes clothes that are donated before they go out on the floor and board vice president Diane Buechel has carved out her domain in the men’s clothing section.

“It’s sort of this world unto itself,” Casey said.

Each volunteer has their favorite role and they collectively work to uphold the standards of the shop, which Casey said they are all “pretty fussy” about.

“It has become a culture,” board member and volunteer Maureen McAllister said.

The thrift shop has been around for 90 years. It started with a group of women selling hand-sewn clothing and canned goods. They briefly also sold items on consignment. Then they decided to focus on selling second-hand clothing. All proceeds go to the Nantucket Cottage Hospital. Last year the thrift shop raised half a million dollars to donate to the hospital. But it’s more involved than simply writing a check at the end of the season. The thrift shop works closely with the hospital to decide what medical-equipment purchases to make, then buys those items and donates them to the hospital.

Beyond that, the shop also decided to fund a project for the new hospital that turned the trees that were cut down during construction into furniture for its lobby.

For the shop’s 90th anniversary this year, the board wanted to honor its more than 130 volunteers, who range in age from 12 well into their mid-80s. In partnership with Nantucket Community Television, they produced a sevenminute video chronicling a year-long cycle of the shop to premiere at its annual volunteer dinner.

“It all came through naturally: the work, the compassion, the enthusiasm behind it all,” said Andrew Cromartie, the primary film-maker with NCTV. Cromartie said he was shocked to find that on the first donation day of the season last year, the building was “filled to capacity.” The day-one merchandise was moved to another storage location, and the second day of donations rolled around.

The building again became full.

“It was always like that,” Cromartie said. “We needed two

to three cameras minimum to capture all the busy-ness.” Nancy Newhouse, who can be seen narrating parts of the thrift shop’s history in the film, created her own homage this year, in a book called “Affordable Nantucket: A History of the Hospital Thrift Shop, 1929-2019.”

“I wanted to show this vibrant community icon,” said Newhouse, who is on the advisory board and has been a volunteer for more than 20 years. “Camaraderie is central to the thrift shop.”

Although the philosophy behind the shop has remained constant over the past century, modernization efforts are in place to help address potential business struggles on the horizon.

The Marie Kondo effect, a phenomenon named after the anti-clutter superstar, became a concern this past winter. Kondo, who is a “tidying” consultant and bestselling author, advocates that all items that do not spark “joy” should be given away. Her philosophy calls for a complete re-evaluation of one’s lifestyle.

There is a fear that people will not want to bring home anything that they might be tempted get rid of after watching “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” on Netflix.

“There’s a feeling that people don’t want stuff anymore,” Casey said.

But another trend, the popularity of vintage clothes, has been on the rise. A lot of the donations can feed the new demand for a decades-old wardrobe.

“We’re finding that what is old is new again,” Casey said.

In that vein, the thrift shop has introduced a more technologically-advanced payment system this year and is spearheading a social-media campaign.

The shop has traditionally been an all-cash enterprise, but after replacing a cash box with a register in 2012, it began using Square card readers in 2013 and has just gotten the brand’s chip-conducive terminals this summer.

“So many people still can’t believe we have those,” McAllister said with a laugh. “It’s like, ‘Oh, yeah? Hand over the Platinum American Express’!”

Now, there are five registers and chip readers stationed around the shop so customers can make their purchases efficiently, even in the most hectic of times.

Additionally, the Thrift Shop’s online presence has significantly increased. Last year, it launched an Instagram account, @hospitalthriftshop, and this July debuted a new website,

“We have to have it,” McAllister said.

“There is a desire to change and be responsive and meet the needs of the community,” Casey said. “We also want to maintain the tradition.”

At noon on the Friday after Columbus Day, whatever donations have not been cleared out of the building during an end-of-the-season everything-must-go sale are donated to other Nantucket charities.

“The best part of the whole thing is that we all come together for a real purpose, and it works,” Williams said. “We’ve managed to focus all these people on doing good.”

Lucy Turnipseed is a sophomore at Dartmouth and spending her second season as a reporter for The Inquirer and Mirror.

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