Spring lineup changes at thriving Garfield County thrift stores
Change is in the wind this spring at two local thrift stores, a bit like baseball teams trading or picking up new players.
LIFT-UP has brought Leslie Robinson onboard as the new manager of its thrift store in Rifle. Robinson was the manager of Defiance Thrift Store in Glenwood Springs for the past two years. Replacing Robinson at Defiance is Rhonda Bell, a Leadville native and longtime area resident. Both started in their new positions the first week of May.
While Defiance and LIFT-UP are separate entities, they work together and share a common goal of helping local people in need.
LIFT-UP’s thrift stores are part of its overall mission of “providing essential humanitarian assistance in the communities it serves.” According to LIFT-UP’s executive director, Mike Powell, “The thrift stores play an important role in our array of services — they are a place where folks on limited budgets or anyone looking to save a little money can find great prices on the things they need, usually for a fraction of what they’d pay for new merchandise. It’s also a way for area residents to donate things that might otherwise get thrown away, knowing that someone else will benefit from the things they no longer need.”
LIFT-UP also operates a thrift store in Parachute, along with seven area food pantries from Aspen to Parachute.
Robinson, who lives in Rifle, says she enjoys the shorter commute to work. She has made some changes in the layout of the Rifle store and has lowered prices on some items. Robinson has noted some attitude shifts in her time in thrift store management.
“The way the economy has been the past few years, a lot more people have seen the value of shopping at thrift stores for things like clothing, housewares or small appliances, where the savings can be considerable,” she said. “When children are growing fast, it makes sense to spend less on clothing if they’re only going to wear something for a year or less. We’re also seeing lots of high school and college students coming in looking for cool, vintage outfits or things for costume parties. People find that shopping at thrift stores is fun — even relaxing. It’s like treasure hunting — you never know what you’re going to find.”
Defiance Thrift Store was formed as a nonprofit in 1997, with the express purpose of generating revenue to fund two local nonprofits — Family Visitor Programs and LIFT-UP. Since opening, Defiance has donated approximately $750,000 of net profits to these organizations. According to Defiance board member Sandra Hanson, “When you factor in the items we’ve given away through vouchers, more than $1 million has been given back to the community.”
Defiance Thrift Store came about organically, and almost by necessity, back in the mid-1990s when Family Visitor Programs was holding annual clothing drives to benefit families with children. Sandy Swanson, Family Visitor Programs’ executive director, said, “People kept bringing in clothing items year-round and our offices became overrun with donated goods, which our office neighbors didn’t appreciate.”
The same thing was happening at LIFT-UP’s Glenwood Springs food pantry. Longtime LIFT-UP volunteer Twila Stephens (who received a Garfield County Humanitarian Service Award this year), said, “People would donate things in addition to food. There would be bags of clothing and household items lined up on the front walkway and porch, so it was hard to even reach the front door some mornings.”
Family Visitor Programs and LIFT-UP partnered to look into starting a thrift store to “create a bigger community asset from all these donated items,” according to Hanson. John Stelzriede, Community Bank President for ANB Bank’s Mountain Region in western Colorado, who was part of Leadership Glenwood at the time, said, “We were looking for a community project, so we got involved to help set up Defiance as a nonprofit, and assembled a board of directors comprised of representatives from LIFT-UP, Family Visitor Programs and members of the community, and I served as the first president.”
After renting commercial space for many years, Defiance purchased and renovated a building on South Glen Avenue in 2011, just a few hundred yards north of its former location. “Purchasing the building resulted in lower overhead, which means that ultimately more funds can be donated,” said Defiance board member Jody Wilson of Transamerica Financial Advisors in Carbondale, “and that’s the primary mission of the store. In less than 15 years the mortgage will be paid off and even more funds will be available to give away.”
Another thrift store set up shop in the former Defiance location, which has caused some confusion over the past two years, but the stores are unrelated.
In her first week of managing Defiance, Bell, who worked in restaurant management for many years, commented on how busy the store is.
“There have been people outside the front door every morning waiting for the store to open, and I don’t think there’s been a single minute since I started without customers in the store,” she said.
LIFT-UP’s thrift stores in Rifle and Parachute also evolved naturally over time as people donated clothing and household goods at the food pantries in those towns.
“At first these things would be given away to people who needed them when they came in for food,” said former LIFT-UP board member Sherry Herrington.
As the volume of goods increased, so did the number of people coming in to look over the merchandise, and LIFT-UP began charging low prices for the general public while still giving things away to people in need.
“What started out as a sideline to our food pantries has now grown to occupy several thousand square feet in our Rifle and Parachute locations,” said LIFT-UP director Powell, “so the thrift stores are meeting needs and also generating revenue to fund the organization.”
LIFT-UP and Defiance honor vouchers issued by other local human service agencies, and LIFT-UP gives out vouchers from its own food pantries to help people with specific needs. “The vouchers are for essential items like clothing, bedding and housewares, said Bell, “and we do our best to send people home with the things they need — we usually get at least one person or family each day with a voucher.”
Many customers like the environmental aspect of shopping at thrift stores.
“They prefer the idea of buying something used that still has a lot of useful life in it, rather than purchasing a brand new product, even if they can afford the new item,” said Robinson.
Defiance and LIFT-UP each participate in Lakewood-based Arc Thrift Stores program, which parks trailers at the stores that are filled with unsold and unusable items.
“Unfortunately we get things donated that we simply can’t put on the floor,” said Bell, “like things that are broken or ripped or stained, so they go right into the Arc trailer — it’s just part of the business.”
The trailers are then transported to the Front Range where the items are sold in Arc’s 19 stores, or they are either recycled or shipped overseas.
“This keeps a tremendous amount of material out of the landfills and puts it to good use. They’ll even take a single shoe [without a mate] because it might help someone who has lost a limb,” said Swanson, adding, “Defiance was spending up to $25,000 a year in fees at the dump, and now Arc pays Defiance for each truckload it picks up.”
According to Robinson, “There are a number of thrift stores in the area, but if people want to be sure that their donated goods and purchases are going to support a good cause, then LIFT-UP and Defiance are always safe choices, and the funds generated stay in the community to help our local neighbors.”
Powell added, “Since both operations are run as nonprofits, there’s not a profit motive in the usual sense, just the desire to help people and keep the stores running.”
LIFT-UP’s Rifle Thrift Store is located at 800 Railroad Ave., and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. through 5 p.m.; Defiance Thrift Store is located at 2412 S. Glen Ave. in Glenwood Springs, and is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. and on Saturday from 9 a.m. through 5 p.m.
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