YFS thrift store is ‘gold mine’ for city

Customers at the Island YFS thrift store look over shoes on the second floor of the store last week. City staff and volunteers have worked to update the shop, where sales reached over $800,000 last year. - Rebecca Mar/Staff Photo
Customers at the Island YFS thrift store look over shoes on the second floor of the store last week. City staff and volunteers have worked to update the shop, where sales reached over $800,000 last year.
— image credit: Rebecca Mar/Staff Photo

If you haven’t visited the Youth and Family Services Thrift Store lately, you will notice some changes, particularly upstairs.

“We’re trying to look more like a boutique with thrift store prices,” said Logan Ens, the store’s assistant coordinator.

The store is also seeking another full-time staff person. Right now there are three full-time employees; Ens, coordinator Suzanne Philen, and Don Rupp, the merchandising representative. All three are city employees with Youth and Family Services.

The new position, production coordinator, will primarily be in charge of intake, or new donations, of which the thrift store receives an astonishing average of seven tons a day. The production coordinator will also track average price points.

Ens said usually only two people are available to sort through all of the intake. Some of it has to be recycled and some items are garbage, but most of what they take in are really nice, gently used items.

The store also maintains 15 to 20 work study students, paid by YFS; YFS is then reimbursed 60 percent by various state and federal programs for those workers. But now, with school back in session, the store has fewer of those employees.

The city’s finance director, Chip Corder, said the Thrift Store is a “little gold mine.”

“We’re overwhelmed — they have more stuff than they can handle,” Corder said.

Corder also mentioned the loss of volunteers, including senior citizens ‘who just can’t do it anymore’. He also said they need more square footage, but expansion costs money.

“Sometimes, you have to spend money to make money,” he said. “There’s an opportunity to make money here. Since the recession, the store has really taken off.”

Ens said with more donations coming in, they have to be creative in what they display.

“If we have 20 items come in, and five of them are $30 items, we’ll display those before the $10 items,” Ens said.

Corder said the city’s general fund has typically subsidized YFS $465,000 per year. Going forward, starting with 2011, that subsidy has been reduced to $320,000. Corder said the store is exceeding its expectations, making $727,000 in 2009, $825,000 in 2010, and on track to generate $1.1 million this year, $150,000 more than projected.

At the store on Wednesday, Sept. 21, Ann Corley said she has shopped there for 10 years on and off. Since moving back to Mercer Island recently, she said she has been there 20 times in the past few months.

“They’ve done a really good job of redecorating,” Corley said.

Designer jeans are now displayed differently, making them easier to see, as are boots, which are hung up with a single clip. Some of the better brands on display are Ann Taylor, Talbot’s, Max Studio, Coldwater Creek, J.Jill, American Eagle, Faconnable and Columbia. While not haute couture, these are nonetheless respectable lines.

Ildiko Thomas of Mercer Island said she did notice the changes while she was shopping. She noticed the changes in the women’s clothing, but commented that there really wasn’t a great selection for infants and younger toddlers. She has a 15-month-old son, and said most of the selection in his size was pretty worn out.

Shopping on the lower level where furniture, housewares and seasonal items can be found, Aidee Pokroy of Mercer Island was picking up a couple of cute canisters with geese on them. She also comes in for books, which there are plenty of.

“I find it a very nice little shop when I need something,” Pokroy said. “I think the store looks very nice. They’ve arranged the furniture nicely.”

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