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A Brand-New (And Probably Permanent) Location For Cornerstone



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A Brand-New (And Probably Permanent) Location For Cornerstone

By Shannon Hicks

Judy Craven thinks people "really seem to like it," and Laurie Wrabel thinks "business has been even better since we moved."

The women are talking about Cornerstone, a mission project of Newtown Congregational Church that has been in existence since 1991. The project offers gently used clothing and accessories for men, women, and children, as well as housewares, bric-a-brac, jewelry, linens, books, and toys in exchange for donations, which are then used to supplement the church's budget.

The project has been housed in the church's former undercroft when that was located at 41-A Main Street and then, for many years, it operated its public space at 67 Main Street South in Ricky's Shopping Center.

In September the project opened doors at its new — and presumably permanent — location. Cornerstone is now located in the undercroft of the church it has supported for so many years. It is on the lower floor at 14 West Street, with the public space finally adjacent to its storage and sorting area.

Cornerstone celebrated a soft opening on September 9, and followed that with a formal grand opening on Saturday, September 20, capitalizing on crowds that were visiting the church for its fall church fair.

"A lot of people found us then," said Mrs Craven, who has been involved with Cornerstone since its inception and has served as its chairman for a number of years.

"I've heard very good things about the new space," said Mrs Wrabel, who volunteers at the shop at least once each month. "Everything I've heard has been very positive."

The new location is not as visible as the former location, but it is like finding a good hair dresser: Dedicated shoppers will follow a favorite vendor regardless of where they move to.

"The other place was more convenient for [me], it was along my regular route," one Cornerstone visitor recently said. "Now I have to route it out differently in my head when I'm running around, but I find it. I still come here."

That longtime visitor said she had been visiting Cornerstone "for years, while both of my daughters grew up. We've put outfits together from this store, and four years apart, they were each voted Best Dressed in their graduating class."

Consumers have a little more to choose from when they visit Cornerstone now that the project has a few hundred more square feet than the 600 square feet available at its previous location. Wall space has lessened, but there is more space for browsing and more floor space for racks of clothes. Volunteers also take advantage of every iota of shelf space, filling every nook and cranny with items while still maintaining a pleasing, not cluttered, presentation.

The new location also offers something Cornerstone has been unable to offer before now. Its sorting and inventory area is now adjacent to the public area, which means that racks, cases, and shelves can be restocked immediately.

The decision to move off South Main Street and over to West Street came after two forces finally met: available space and economics.

"Because Cornerstone was started when [the church was] struggling financially, the original goal of the store included raising money to help pay for the new sanctuary," Judy Craven told The Bee in 2005. "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."

NCC's church building never had enough space to offer both a storage/sorting area and a public shopping area. It was not until the church underwent its addition and restoration in 2004 that more square footage became available not only for Cornerstone, but also for offices, classrooms, and other storage needs. Even then, however, there was not space set aside for public use within the space allotted for Cornerstone.

"We didn't move before because we didn't have the space to move into," Mrs Craven said last month.

"This space," she said, indicating the area now designated for the public, "was used for sorting and organizing. It wasn’t a space that could be allocated for the public to come and browse."

The second reason for the move was that while Cornerstone was still filling a need for people who needed or just enjoyed to visit a thrift shop ("It's not always a question of financial need. Many people enjoy browsing in a thrift shop," Mrs Craven said), it was making less money for the church's coffers.

"It got to a point were we were doing all this volunteer work for very little return for the church," said Mrs Craven, who is quick to add that she and everyone else at NCC do not blame Ricky's Shopping Center for the move. "[The landlord] was always very responsive, very helpful for any of our needs.

"But the rent was expensive for us, and electricity and gas charges also created an extra pull on our budget," she added. "We were reaching a point were we were almost going to be working at a negative."

Construction on the new space began in June, which was perfect because everything that had been in Cornerstone's storage space had to be moved out of that area. Fortunately, it was summer break for the church school, so the empty classrooms became temporary storage spaces.

A wall was put up about midway into the space that was the former full sorting and inventory space, cutting that space in half. The room to the west of the new wall continues to serve as in-season inventory and sorting space, while the space to the east of the new wall is now the public shopping area. A new room was built across the hall from the front entrance of Cornerstone, and that space is now serving as out-of-season storage.

"We had painting nights, where 15 people would come out and spend their night here," said Mrs Craven. "We had a great core group of people who helped."

In addition to the church members who volunteered, two men — electrician Ken Burns and plumber Marc DâAvola, also NCC members — were able to offer their services to the church at greatly reduced rates.

"We paid them, and for their materials, but they saved us some money," said Mrs Craven. "We also have a church member who is a contractor who helped supervise the project and did the taping, which not everyone knows how to do."

The fact that church members volunteer so much of their time also means the store has been able to remain open for 17 years. In that time, the store has been able to put more than $350,000 into the church's treasury.

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.

About 30 people continue to volunteer their time for Cornerstone. It is a smaller group than in past years, said Mrs Craven, but she does not worry about the project's continuity.

"The whole operation kind of runs itself now," she said. "People volunteer for their duties and they take care of them. We never need to remind each other of what needs to be done.

"The best way I would describe our work," she continued, "is we enable people to help others by recycling their good stuff. People bring us their stuff and we find a new home for it."

Cornerstone is open Tuesday through Friday from 11 am to 4 pm, and Saturday from 11 am to 1:30 pm. The is not open on Monday, but donations are accepted between 9:30 am and 1 pm. The entrance is through the lower section of Newtown Congregational Church, 14 West Street.

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