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Return to shopping beyond the essentials

Barriers have been installed at Woolwich Community Services thrift shop to protect Julie Mikel and other employees. [Sean Heeger]

Add ‘bargain hunting’ to the list of shopping options in the restarting economy, as thrift stores have gradually been opening their doors.

As with most businesses, the stores closed up in mid-March, especially after the sector wasn’t deemed an essential service.

Within the last two weeks, however, local thrift stores slowly began opening their operations again, starting off by accepting donations of clothing and other items from the public. More recently, the stores have resumed a semi-normal shopping experience, allowing customers back inside to purchase their wares.

Sheryl Bruggeling, communications and events senior planner with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), stresses the importance of thrift shops to the organization and the community.

“The thrift shop is an important part of the community in a couple of different ways,” said Bruggeling. “It’s important for the fact that it supports MCC. Right now, we’re all feeling vulnerable, [but] the most vulnerable among us need our support even more. But also, that it’s a part of the community and provides an inexpensive and alternative for good quality used goods.”

In Elmira, the Woolwich Community Services (WCS) thrift store on Memorial Avenue and the MCC-run ‘Thrift and Gift’ on Church Street are on the list of recently reopened stores, starting up again May 19 and May 26 respectively. Representatives of both stores are happy they can reopen, but stress that things will be a little different for those who choose to shop.

“We’ve limited the number of shoppers to seven in the stores and we’re asking people to be one person per aisle… or store section,” said Kelly Christie, executive director of WCS. “We do have the plexiglass shields up at the counter for the staff and customer safety.”

Christie says other changes include customers disinfecting their hands upon entering the store, bringing their own bags, and maintaining a strict cleaning routine after each customer is finished with their purchase. During this time, Christie asks people coming to the stores to be patient as they have not called back volunteers saying they are working with a “very, very skeletal staff.”

The MCC store will be adhering to similar rules which will include closing washrooms and fitting rooms to customers during this time. Strict social distancing measures will also be in place and customers are asked to not touch items unless they plan on purchasing them.

Bruggeling says up to 25 customers will be welcome inside to shop at any time, but there will be a greeter at the door counting the number of people in store and they will reserve the right to ask customers to wait if necessary.

She says there will be a time on Wednesdays between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. specifically for vulnerable people to come in and shop. There will be an hour break from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. where cleaning of the store will take place and regular shopping hours will resume until 5 p.m.

When the stores closed, both organizations lost a good amount of revenue which would have been generated had they remained in operation. Bruggeling says in total the Elmira Thrift and Gift brought in $15,000 in an average week, and about $320,000 in total would come in from all stores each month. During the time stores were closed, MCC thrift shops did provide online sales, which included curbside pickup and delivery as a means of generating revenue, however, the amount they made was nowhere near the normal range.

“It was very interesting and a great initiative, it did bring in some funds, but it was quite a bit lower than what we would normally get. I think last week we brought in just under 10 grand… it’s awesome but it’s still not 320 (thousand dollars),” said Bruggeling.

Donations are being accepted at both WCS Thrift Store and the MCC Thrift and Gift. Christie asks people who are donating to be patient if they are dropping off items and ring the bell so an employee can come out and pickup the items. Items will be accepted 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Saturday. MCC donations will be collected Wednesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

WCS Thrift will be open Mondays to Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Thrift and Gift will be open Tuesdays and Thursdays to Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Wednesdays 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. with two hours in the morning reserved for vulnerable people.

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