Two of the most unique items at Defiance Thrift Store are not for sale: the monkey and the duct-taped shoe. Manager Rhonda Bell keeps them on hand as reminders of the kind of shopping experience she wants people to have and the excellent quality of the merchandise.
The monkey, which rests in the back of the store, is part of a jungle scene painted on a piece of plywood. Its origin is unknown but it could have come from a carnival or a school drama department. Instead of a face, there’s a hole. “Anyone from the elderly to tiny babies puts their head in there and has photos taken,” said Bell with a laugh. “It’s too much fun not to have here.”
Bell, who has been managing the store for five months, said the best thing about her work is that it’s constantly changing. “Every single minute, it’s different here.”
Defiance, not to be confused with Community Thrift and Treasures, is now at 2412 S. Glen Ave., comfortably sandwiched between Micro Solutions and the car wash. It’s open five days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
A typical day involves taking in deliveries, non-stop sorting and pricing, and adding items to displays throughout the store.
“I couldn’t do it without my employees and volunteers,” said Bell, who manages one full-time and three part-time workers and two full-time volunteers. The 9th Judicial District’s WorkEnders program is also a big help. “They clean windows, push brooms, fix up furniture, and help people load and unload their cars,” she added.
Bell, who spent two years with the Garfield County Department of Human Services and two decades in the restaurant business before taking the job at Defiance, personally sorts all items that come in. “We don’t take everything,” she said. That includes electronics, computers, phones, televisions as well as large appliances like refrigerators.
But, oh, the stuff she sells! Here’s a short list of goodies that distracted a reporter during a store tour: Amazonian blow-darts in a carved, wooden quiver, brand new boots from Boogie’s in Aspen for a fraction of the original price; the Joan Crawford closet full of elegant dresses and robes; ancient pottery from Argentina; linens; tableware; and a certain black jacket with beaded lapels and cuffs. “We get donations of new clothes from Boogie’s and from Traffic, a boutique in Basalt,” said Bell.
Not all of the merchandise is exotic or fancy, but all of it is high-quality. Racks of jeans, shirts, blouses, coats and everyday wear fill the floor. Kids’ clothes are 50 cents per item.
Part-time employee Wendy Morse recalled a recent customer with a very limited budget who needed school clothes for her two children. “She completely clothed her kids for 20 bucks,” said Morse. “She was so happy she was in tears.”
Defiance got its start in Glenwood Springs in 1997, behind the now-defunct True Value store, which made way several years ago for the new Glenwood Springs High School. The thrift store’s home for many years was just south of its current location, where Community Thrift and Treasures is now.
Mike Powell, president of the Defiance board of directors, said the store has gone through many changes, including a move two years ago. He said the overall operation is more efficient. “The reality is that it’s more professional today than it used to be,” he said.
Defiance owns the building where it is presently housed, which has cut costs. “The mortgage payment is cheaper than renting the other building,” he explained. “We’ve saved between one and two thousand dollars a month by buying the building and reducing costs.”
Proceeds from sales go to LIFT-UP and Family Visitor Programs of Garfield County, which Powell, also the director of LIFT-UP, says is a partnership between all three nonprofits.
Powell added that Bell has done a “bang-up” job. “She is indefatigable,” he explained. “She provides leadership, a great work ethic, and she has an eye for value and display.”
Bell said her biggest challenge is making sure there’s something for everyone. “It’s a balancing act between $150 boots, $4 shoes, and 50-cent T-shirts,” she said. “I’m trying to make sure every customer has something of interest.”
But there are some things that would be better off in the trash, she added, holding up the duct-taped shoe. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” she said with a shrug. “But, every once in awhile, it’s OK to throw something away.”