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Cornerstone Thrift Shop: The Little Shop Where The Bottom Line Is People



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By Shannon Hicks

Cornerstone Thrift Shop, a store operated by Newtown Congregational Church, may sometimes go through shifting hours of operation but it never stops trying to help the community.

The store was a project begun by the church in the early 1990s, when the church was going through a change. Previously housed in what is now Newtown Meeting House at 31 Main Street, the sanctuary of Newtown Congregational Church (NCC) moved nearly 15 years ago to its current location at 14 West Street.

The store is at 67 Main Street South. Its current hours are Tuesday through Friday from 11 am to 4 pm, and Saturday from 11 am to 2 pm.

The store's price list has always been very reasonable. Current prices include $2.50 for any adult tops whether a blouse, vest, sweatshirt, or sweater; $3 for adult pants including jeans, slacks, shorts, leggings, and sweat pants; $3 for adult sport coats, blazers, suits, dresses, and two- or three-piece outfits; $2.50 for skirts; $3 for adult swimsuits; $2 for bras (regular or sport); 75 cents for tights, pantyhose, long underwear, and new pairs of socks; 50 cents for preowned pairs of socks; $2 for adult shoes, slippers, and sneakers; and $2.50 for adult athletic shoes, tap shoes, boots, and skates.

Children's footwear is 50 cents for shoes up to size 13, and $1 for a pair of boots.

Scarves and ties are $1 each, silk ties are $2 apiece, belts are 50 cents, and mass market paperback books are also 50 cents.

Merchandise not mentioned above, such as housewares, bric-a-brac, jewelry, linens, and toys, are individually priced.

Inventory varies with special items brought out for holiday seasons, and clothing is changed seasonally. The store is currently looking for donations of autumn clothing.

"Because Cornerstone was started when we were struggling financially, the original goal of the store included raising money to help pay for the new sanctuary," said Judy Craven, who is the current chairman of Cornerstone. Ms Craven has been involved with Cornerstone since its inception in 1991.

“That was part of the original intent of the store, but I remember talking to someone else who wanted to have a place where people who might not be able to afford to clothe themselves otherwise would have a place to shop," Ms Craven said.

"We get comments from many people who tell us 'You don't know what a service you're providing for this town," added Charlotte Kalley as she and other members of the church worked in the Cornerstone donation room.

Volunteers sort through items into various categories, and make sure all items are clean and mended if necessary. Clothing that needs to be ironed is taken home by volunteers, pressed at home, and then hung at the shop ready for sale.

Nothing is wasted. Most items are ready to sell or just need a slight cleaning before they are put into the store's inventory. Minor rips and tears can be mended.

If an item cannot be put into the inventory, or if it does not sell, it is then donated to Goodwill.

According to notes from the church, a committee composed of church members proposed the project of a church-sponsored thrift shop after church members conducted research and visited a number of other thrift shops across the state.

The aim of the committee was and still is twofold: To be a resource for good, clean clothing and housewares at very low cost for the community at large, and to add funds to the church treasury.

The committee's proposal was approved by the congregation, and a number of NCC members pledged loans to be used for start-up costs. Many others pitched in to prepare the premises, which landlord Dan Riccio had rented to the church at a reduced rate for its first six months.

Well before the end of its first year, Cornerstone's loans had been repaid and the store had already become a popular and helpful shopping destination for many people. Church members love to tell the story of a young man who purchased a full-size wagon wheel-turned-chandelier for his mother's dining room — in Florida.

In the years since its opening, Cornerstone has also been able to respond to requests from the town's social worker, volunteers once put together boxes of winter sweaters for shipment to Russia, and another time, bags of children's clothing were prepared for delivery in Latin America.

"We have been able to give clothing to several different facilities which help people with little or no resources of their own," Ms Craven recently wrote in a note to church members. "In other words, the fact that the church sponsors and runs this store makes it possible for us to provide for others in need."

The fact that church members volunteer so much of their time also means the store has been able to remain open for 14 years. In that time, the store has been able to put more than $350,000 into the church's treasury.

"The involvement by church members has always remained strong," Charlotte Kalley said. "Men offer fix-it work, and take items to the dump for us. Many of the women take things home to iron.

"People have found a niche, one aspect of help that interests them," she continued. "One family takes care of all the jewelry donations. They do the cleaning and pricing of all the jewelry, then come back in to the store and set up the display cases."

Jean Lawrence is another NCC member who has over the years volunteered countless hours to Cornerstone. She "gravitates" to the housewares, which she enjoys sorting and preparing to put into the store.

"I love what I do," Ms Lawrence said. "I feel like it's a paying job. We don't get paid, of course, but you come in here to work hard. There is also a lot of camaraderie and enjoyment in getting things ready for Cornerstone."

In addition to the volunteers who work on sorting and stocking during the week days — usually Monday and Wednesday mornings another group of volunteers works at night.

"They take items to the store for us, and arrange everything on the displays and stands," Ms Lawrence said. "We never even see them, but we know they've been here to pick up items and we see the result of their work when we go over to the store."

Another function that is handled "quietly but faithfully," said Ms Craven, "is the weekend cleaning of the store.

"That's been done for many years, and we just know the people we rely on are going to do it," she said. "We don't have to call them. They're just there."

The store space itself is small — only about 600 square feet, which is very small by retail standards. This is why the donation and sorting center for Cornerstone has always been in a separate location.

The Cornerstone donation center and storage space for the store was originally in one of the rooms below the NCC sanctuary at 14 West Street, and then it was moved into the undercroft when the church house was at 41-A Main Street. It then moved back into its own room on West Street when an addition was built onto the sanctuary last year.

After the chaos of the move into its new quarters last year, volunteers are working regularly both in the donation center and the store. More help is always welcome in the donation and sorting area.

"We prefer volunteers to have some kind of affiliation with the church," said Judy Craven, "but we won't turn down help if it's offered."

"The community really likes us," Ms Kalley said. "We have people of all faiths come in."

Donations for Cornerstone Thrift Shop should be taken to the church at 14 West Street on Monday and Wednesdays mornings, when volunteers are there to accept them. Donations may also be taken to the store when it is open.

The Cornerstone staff requests that items never be left at the store when it is not open nor at the church when no one is there to accept them.

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