p.9-A-svdp-06-23-11With 30,000 square feet of retail space, the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store in Waukesha is able to display furniture in settings that allow shoppers to visualize how it will look in their homes. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)WAUKESHA — Gasoline prices are climbing and food costs increasing, but locally, a new option arose to keep the household budget in line.

On May 7, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Waukesha County opened an expanded thrift store at S30 W24836 Sunset Drive in the Town of Waukesha.

Relocating from its previous and smaller location at 305 E. Main St. in Waukesha to the 50,000-square-foot building at the corner of Sunset Drive and Prairie Avenue, “is a big move, a generational move,” said Steve Cigich, council president for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Waukesha County.

The previous thrift shop, which had been used for about 50 years, closed in March.

The new space, formerly a Kohl’s grocery store, was built 10 years ago and was vacant for about six years. Unlike the old thrift shop, the new one has a high-traffic location and a large parking lot. Also, the Waukesha Metro Transit’s Prairie bus route stops nearby.

Thrift store donations and hours

Currently donations are brought to the rear of the store.

This summer, a canopy for
the donation area will be installed on the side of the
building. To arrange a furniture pick-up, donors can call (262) 569-0763.

The hours for shopping and dropping off donations are
9 a.m. to 8 p.m.,
Monday through Saturday.

Twenty-two part-time and full-time employees work at the store, and 30 to 40 volunteers come in each week to help process the donations, display merchandise, clean the store, repair items or do office work.

“To set up the store, 20 volunteers a day would come to help,” said store manager John Erdmann.

Inside, it’s spacious and bright; natural light pours through large windows.

Rows of shelves that once held groceries now offer shoppers cookware, dishes and toys, while numerous racks display a colorful assortment of clothes to peruse.

With 30,000-square feet of retail space, the store is set up to enhance each department, Cigich said. For example, the furniture section features sofas, chairs and lamps grouped into room settings.

The book area, located in the space previously occupied by the in-store bank, feels like a roomy reading nook, complete with a comfortable couch.

Along a back wall, fitting rooms were constructed, and there is a seating area for those needing a break from bargain hunting.

“It’s a new, fun shopping experience,” Erdmann said.

Donations have been steady and generous, so the stock is frequently replenished, he noted.

Items run the gamut from antiques to a “new goods” department that sells reading glasses, party favors and greeting cards.

Throughout the store, merchandise is tidily displayed and well organized. Jewelry sparkles inside new display cases. TVs and other electronics, housewares and linens are aligned neatly on shelves.

There is plenty of room to accommodate stoves and clothes washers. There is also a large selection of sporting goods.

Currently much of the floor space is devoted to spring and summer clothing. The items look brand new to gently used.

A tour of the sorting areas reveals the back of the store to be just as orderly as the sales floor. Employees and volunteers presort items as quickly as possible after they are received. Boxes, shelves and racks are marked to indicate where the items are to be displayed.

Donations that fit the current season are priced and kept ready to refill the store’s racks and shelves. Winter clothes and Christmas decorations are boxed and stored.

The thrift store accepts all types of clothing, plus household items and furniture in good condition.

“Some examples of things we cannot take are cribs and car seats, and appliances with Freon,” Cigich said. “Now that we have a larger space, we can fix bicycles and repair electronics. Very little we receive goes to waste,” he added.

Likewise, the society made good use of items that remained in the building when it was purchased.

“By selling compressors and other items we didn’t need, we were able to spend about half what we had expected to get the store up and running,” Cigich said.

Another benefit of the new building is its office space. Some council offices will be located in what used to be the grocer’s separate liquor department, and rooms in the mezzanine will be used for meetings.

The organization had been looking for a new location for about five years, Cigich said. Encouraged by the success of its thrift store in Oconomowoc, which opened in 2006 and has 35,000 square feet, the council decided to operate a larger store in Waukesha as a way to increase revenue.

“The stores provide funds so we can carry out our ministries,” Cigich explained. “Revenues from store sales are used to cover all the operating costs of our ministries, so 100 percent of what a person donates in cash to us goes directly to the poor.”

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul thrift stores support the community in a variety of ways. Store vouchers for selecting clothing and household goods at no charge are given to people in need. The stores also provide employment and volunteer opportunities, and the low prices mean shoppers get great values on their purchases.

Vincentians, the name given to members of the society, volunteer and respond to calls for assistance by making home visits. The assistance can include emergency rent, utilities, food, clothing, transportation and referral services.

Locally, the society also provides meal programs, food pantry support, jail ministry, a summer lunch program and other services. In 2010, $641,586 was spent to serve those in need, and 34,883 people were helped, according to Julie McIntyre, executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Waukesha District Council.