Nonprofit Spotlight: Defiance Thrift ‘solves a few problems locally’
Post Independent Correspondent
The perfect polyester pants for that ’70s theme party, the gently used baby stroller you never would have paid retail for, the one-of-a-kind antique chair or original oil painting you show off to your friends — these are the types of items that, without a place like Glenwood’s Defiance Thrift Store, we might never have otherwise had the joy of finding.
Although shoppers may venture to the thrift store for a variety of different reasons, there is no denying that scoring a sweet deal on something needed or wanted is incredibly satisfying — and this helps make Defiance one of the busiest nonprofit organizations in the area.
“It’s designed to cover lots of different needs in the community,” said Sandy Swanson, Defiance Thrift Store board member. “You never know what kind of interesting, useful items you might find there — we feel it’s important to have a place where working people can purchase quality items for reasonable prices.”
Swanson has also worked for decades as the executive director of Family Visitor Programs in Glenwood Springs. In 1996, her organization had become overwhelmed with donations — clothing, home goods, toys and more — partly because the community lacked a sufficient outlet where used items could be given to charity. By December of that year, she had teamed up with then-director of LIFT-UP Jackie Allen and Advocate Safehouse Project Executive Director Julie Olson to form the vision of what would soon become Defiance Thrift Store.
“We put our heads together and decided to try and make it work,” she recalled. “We asked a group called Leadership Glenwood to do a feasibility study and submit a business plan — and they did a lovely job. With the help of the Aspen Community Foundation and Bob Young of Alpine Bank we were able to secure a combination of grants and loans to get started. From the day we opened in an old space by the high school, it was a huge success. We were able to pay back our loans within six months.”
The store received official 501(c)(3) nonprofit status in 1998.
“In addition to raising funds for charity, Defiance solves a few problems locally: the first of which is recycling usable goods within the community — we help keep stuff out of the landfill,” Swanson noted. “Second, we help redistribute quality goods to people who are unable to pay full price in a regular store. And last, we utilize a voucher program to help those in certain situations — domestic abuse or a fire, for example — to obtain needed items like free clothing or household supplies.”
Although Advocate Safehouse Project ultimately chose not to continue as an active participant, Family Visitor Programs and LIFT-UP have been associated with Defiance since the beginning. To this day, each organization receives equal shares of the shop’s proceeds.
“Last year we raised about $100,000 strictly in retail sales,” reported Rhonda Bell, the store’s manager of four years. “We’re pretty proud of that number, considering most of our items are priced at $4 or so.”
Bell, who holds a master’s degree in sociology and spent years in the restaurant business before coming to Defiance, has found the job to be surprisingly fulfilling.
“It’s like a family here,” she said. “We get to know our customers very well. When I came here a few years ago, we decided that we wanted all walks of life to feel comfortable shopping here, and we feel we have achieved that.”
The operation has been at its current address of 2412 S. Glen Ave. since 2011, when the property was purchased. Voted the Locals’ Choice Best Thrift Shop in 2016 and several years prior, Defiance is known by many as the go-to for quality goods, oddities and an enjoyable, clean shopping experience.
“We really have a good time here — it’s very social, very caring,” Bell said. The store receives help from volunteers and also employs seven people, including two clients of Mountain Valley Developmental Services.
“We absolutely love this partnership,” she added. “It has been 100 percent successful for us. In addition to our part-time employees, we also allow people to fulfill community hours for public service here, and we work with the county on the food stamp program, which requires recipients to volunteer.”
Bell noted that the store’s crew sorts through every bag of donated goods, seeking items eligible for resale. Goods not deemed appropriate for Defiance are loaded into a trailer and hauled for distribution at Denver-area thrift shops by a group called ARC Thrift Stores.
“We fill a semi to the top about every six weeks,” Bell said. “We receive far more donations than we are able to sell here in our store, but we are relieved to know that everything we can’t use does not end up in the landfill.”
In addition to wedding gowns, Halloween costume pieces and the largest cache of ugly Christmas sweaters in the valley, the team sometimes finds true hidden gems amongst the mountains of donations.
“It’s amazing what we are given sometimes,” she said. “Jewelry, designer labels, fine art, and even more obscure things like a zebra mount from Zimbabwe that we sold. There were also dart guns from the Amazon that we had authenticated, Chinese pottery, ironwood statues from Indonesia. We had a signed photo of the musician Stevie Ray Vaughan once. We usually consult with experts around the valley to help us authenticate some of these things — and of course, thank goodness for the internet. It helps us determine ballpark figures of worth.”
Still, she noted, prices at Defiance typically run below — if not well under — market value.
“It’s one of the special purposes of our work here, too, is to help people feel good about finding something they would not have been able to afford otherwise,” Bell said. “Someone might find a $700 coat for $40 with us — perhaps it’s a gift for a loved one. Or maybe a new mom is able to buy some much-needed baby items for just a few dollars.”
Last-minute bargain hunters will find Defiance Thrift Store open now until Christmas Eve from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Bell said she always finds the holiday rush especially gratifying.
“Around this time of year, during the holiday season,” she added, “it is really heartwarming to help fulfill this kind of role in the community.”