Thrift shop offers savings and salvation

It was another Wacky Wednesday, which meant discounts at the Assistance League of Huntington Beach Thrift Store.

Dozens of people were inside as soon as its doors opened that morning, looking for a bargain on necessities or just fun trinkets.

Some shoppers made a beeline for the clothing racks, hoping to find a blue tag item, indicating half off, or other garments discounted for the day. Others inspected luggage, sifted through books or examined dishware.

Kim Adams, one of the early birds, was greeted by nearly every volunteer as she walked around. Adams, 61, of Huntington Beach, is a regular at the store, located near Beach Boulevard and Slater Avenue.

Some of the volunteers said she comes in every day.

"No, I don't come in every day, but I do come in regularly on Tuesday and Wednesday, and sometimes I come in on Thursdays and Fridays," Adams said, prompting laughter. "I guess I do come in every day."

But before shoppers came rushing into the store at 11 a.m., Assistance League members and other volunteers had been in the back room, sorting through the donations taken in the night before.

Store manager Marilyn Davidson explained that the merchandise is sorted and prepped before going out on the showroom floor. Clothes are put on hangers, and appliances and electronics are placed in boxes or on shelves.

"And then someone comes around and tags them with our colored tags in our inventory," she said. "Then after three months, we put them on sale and what doesn't sell we give to a church that helps the homeless or other needy people."

Most of the items in the main room have a set price. For example, cups generically are 50 cents, long-sleeve blouses are $3 and shirts $2.50. More recognizable brands and higher-quality items are placed in the thrift store's corner boutique.

Davidson said she doesn't like inventory lingering in the back room, so once everything is tagged, it's sent to the showroom as soon as possible.

"That's the objective: in and out. We don't want to store things," she said. "It takes up too much valuable space to save one blouse that we would sell for $2.50. So get it on the floor because there'll be another $2.50 blouse in that donation bag."

The store manager added that goods are seldom thrown away. Yes, sometimes an item is too badly damaged or worn to be sold and ends up in a trash bin outside, but even discards find a new home.

"We have people that actually rummage through our trash, so it all gets recycled," Davidson said. "That's how you have to look at it."


Funding community programs

The thrift store is the main source of funding for the Assistance League's philanthropic programs implemented throughout Huntington Beach, Fountain Valley and Westminster, said Diane Dwyer, spokeswoman for the nonprofit.

The Huntington Beach chapter of the nonprofit was the first to open a thrift store in Orange County, she said, adding that dozens of others are spead around the country.

"All the work that we put in the thrift shop, the whole purpose is so that we can have money to give away to the community," chapter President Doris Kennedy said.

Revenue from the store, along with money received from fundraisers, goes to the 15 local programs the organization is involved with. The Assistance League helps fund the El Viento program in the city's Oak View community and offers scholarships to combat veterans and students pursuing a nursing degree.

"Last year, we almost gave about a half a million dollars back to the community," Kennedy said. "That's huge and that's just from all of us volunteers."

She added that all their efforts to better Huntington Beach and the surrounding cities would be for naught if it wasn't for the generous donations the store receives daily.

"The worst nightmare I have in my life is to wake up and the bins are empty," Kennedy said.


Finding the bargain

Adams clutched a turquoise glass container as she went hunting in the boutique portion of the store. She had already grabbed a bag of tea lights and five blouses that cost $1 each.

"I like shirts with bling on them, so that's what I look for mostly," she said.

The key to looking for a good item, Adams explained, is to go frequently and search the entire store.

"You have to look around, because everything is not here every time you come in," she said. "Sometimes I find a lot of stuff, and sometimes I only maybe find one or two things. It just depends on what's here and, of course, what's in my size."

On the other side of the store, Jim Ziegler, 77, walked around the main showroom holding a windshield wiper, a cell phone charger and a pedometer as his wife looked at blouses.

"Usually on Wednesdays I make the rounds," he said. "I go to the Salvation Army and then I come over here because it's discount day."

Ziegler typically goes to the store by himself but said his wife wanted to come along this time.

The 47-year Surf City resident admitted that most of the items he buys are things he doesn't really need.

"I keep bringing things home ... eventually they're going to put me in a home," Ziegler said.

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