Among the hundreds of items that are available are clothing, furniture, books, dishes, glassware, small electrical appliances, vases, in addition to an especially welcoming sense of warmth, friendship and pride.
For many residents of this small island, the thrift shop is the first place to look for a warm jacket for a grandchild or an almost-new winter coat for a grandmother who generally goes without. “I come in almost every day, and I always find something we need and can use,” she said. “Besides, the folks who work here have become my friends. People I can talk to.”
Phronsie Conlin has been a volunteer for close to twenty years. “I look forward to my time here,” she said. I meet people from all over the island. It’s like a social club working with friends and customers who come in almost daily who have become friends. What we do here is appreciated, and at my age – ninety two – that feels very good. Plus we know we are doing good for our island and people.”
Other islanders find different reasons for stopping in at the large blue building on Lagoon Pond Road in Vineyard Haven. Viet Bachellor, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services has many occasions when she has to look her best.
“The most elegant piece of clothing I own came from the Thrift Shop - a leather jacket I could not have afforded in an expensive shop off island. Every time I wear it, I receive compliments. And yes! I proudly tell people where it came from. When my husband and I first moved to Vineyard Haven in 1969,” she continued, “the very first piece of furniture we bought was an old seaman’s chest from the Thrift Shop. It’s still one of our most prized possessions. Now I come in fairly often to look for unusual vases and other containers for flower arrangements for the Garden Club shows. I don’t go off island often and the Thrift Shop has become the first place many of us year round islanders go to.”
It’s the first place others head to for the warmth of friendly human contact, knowing they are welcome to browse or just come in, out of the cold. Sandy Pratt, busy manager, takes time to talk to me. “The Thrift Shop supports the Community Services organization, but is itself, unofficially, an important community relations destination. There are lonely people, elderly, often living alone who stop by almost every day. The staff and I get to know them. If a few days go by and he or she doesn’t come in, one of us will call and check up. A gentleman bringing in clothing that belonged to a family member needs time to express his feelings. We don’t take time; we give it.”
It was my neighbor, Olga Hirshorn, ultimate thrift shop browser, who recognized the value of several donated art pieces, and came up with the idea of an annual art show. She gave the show its name, and began showcasing paintings, sculpture, photography, valuable first edition books, and other pieces of art, making the weekend in August a collector’s destination – bringing $40,000 to $50,000 to Community Services.
In this sputtering economy, the Thrift Shop is a thread that weaves residents and visitors to each other and so to the island itself. Islanders have depended on the shop since 1962 — when it opened on Main Street, and more so now on Lagoon Pond Road in a roomier building where more people can come in, where strollers, cribs, and car seats, bicycles, and kayaks, tennis racquets and even wedding dresses are attractively displayed.
I like to think of the Thrift Shop as a typical, yet unique island resource. I bring in household items and clothing I no longer use. I take home household items and clothing someone else no longer uses — I feel pride and excitement in finding something I truly want. I’m also indirectly donating to Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, which contributes to the daily lives of hundreds of islanders. (Last year alone the thrift shop contributed over $380,000.00 to Community Services.) The Thrift Shop is daily proof of the resilient spirit of Islanders, rising to address community needs, each one of us contributing, discovering and adapting to what’s been made available at “Chicken Alley” — and, for all generations, on this particular island, it’s pretty cool to be thrifty.