An organization that began in 1975 as a volunteer-run garage sale now thrives as a revenue-generating business, using more than 50 percent of profits to fund Mercer Island Youth and Family Services (MIYFS).
The Mercer Island Thrift Shop graduated to a larger space in the 1980s, moving into the old community swim club facility. Still, the business remains settled right off Mercerdale Park.
Throughout each day, local citizens drop off enough donations to fill multiple large blue bins. Once the items are sorted, leftover objects and clothing are then donated to Seattle Goodwill.
Business coordinator Suzanne Philen joined the staff in 2000, just after major renovations were made to the building. Rather than rooms full of randomly placed racks, the group aims to embody a boutique store, she explained.
The thrift shop used to be open four days per week and shoppers would wait in line outside to get the first pick of the new donations. Now, the store is open every day of the week. The shop is projected to make $2.9 million just this year alone, Philen said.
“This has a lot of moving parts,” Philen said. Currently, the personnel is comprised of 50 volunteers and 12 full-time staff members.
According to Philen, the establishment is sensitive to the needs of the workforce. People with disabilities can have sitting-only jobs and others can be given minimal effort tasks, such as placing price tags on donations.
“We’ve been a great place for people new to the community,” Philen said. The thrift shop hires English-as-a-second-language residents in order to help them learn and grow within the community.
The thrift shop has volunteer opportunities to gain job experience or fulfill work-study programs and court-ordered community service.
The proceeds for MIYFS help support various forms of aid for children and adults. Services include counseling, substance abuse programs, emergency food assistance, juvenile court diversion, family assistance and career guidance.
“We help place mental health counselors in schools,” Philen said. The organization focuses on confidential services to provide safety and security. The partnership between the thrift stop and MIYFS has been beneficial for young adults who are building resume experience and ultimately hope to find jobs.