Can a thrift store that started in someone's basement almost half a century ago survive in today's increasingly challenging retail environment?
That's the question Share Family and Community Services is asking as it launches a public awareness campaign to win new customers and overcome the challenges wrought by increasing competition and changing demographics.
The hope is that the Tri-Cities community re-connects with the SHARE'd Treasures thrift store that started as a clothing exchange in 1972.
"It really needs to generate revenue so it can help us deliver our core services," Share CEO Claire MacLean told The Tri-City News.
On one recent Wednesday, the thrift store, located at 2404 St. Johns St., was busy, with volunteer cashiers handling a short lineup of shoppers at the cash counter.
Still, despite the success and a loyal clientele, revenue has not kept up with costs in recent years.
"We're facing some of the same challenges of many small businesses," MacLean said.
Even the Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce has been consulted for ideas on how to make the thrift store more successful.
As many as 55 volunteers help with sorting, tagging, organizing and sales, and Share handles a large assortment of clothing, jewelry and household items.
But new customers haven’t replaced those who have moved out of of the area, Share says, and it can't afford to weather slow times because running a retail outlet is not part of its core mandate.
"The thrift store was established to fundraise for some of our programs," said MacDonald, so breaking even, as it did last year, is not ideal.
Store manager Krissie Sondles said she believes the community needs to be reminded of the store's many intangible benefits, such as providing work experience to volunteer staff, raising funds for the food bank and keeping usable items — clothes, housewares and more — out of the landfill.
"We need new customers to make up for those who have moved on," she said.
For 31 years, Sondles has managed the well-organized, clean store, which is near transit and located next to the Queen Street Plaza and across from Starbucks on St. Johns. With 6,000 sq. ft. of space, including a sorting area, the store has a mix of gently-loved and new items as well as small appliances that have been checked by volunteers to be in good working order.
Sondles recently sent brochures to SFU and Douglas College to attract students and is asking people to be in touch via Facebook to learn of the latest sales. There are also special deals throughout the week.
She hopes SHARE'd Treasures once again becomes a popular place for people to do their treasure hunting.
"We just need new people to discover us," Sondles said.