As a lifelong thrift shopper, I learned early how to spot a great deal, and how to spot a great thrift store.
I recently visited the Society of St. Vincent de Paul retail stores for the first time. SVdP is a Catholic lay organization created in France. It came to the U.S. in 1845 with the mission to assist the poor, materially and spiritually.
The organization has been active in Atlanta since 1903 operating food pantries and providing financial assistance, shelter, job training and more to clients. The retail stores, staffed by Vincentian volunteers, help fund these programs in the communities they serve.
With 11 metro area stores — some more than 30 years old — SVdP has had to adjust to Atlanta’s changing landscape, says Kevin Barbee, COO of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Georgia. In recent years, they have opened new stores and moved existing stores to new locations. Last week, the Marietta store reopened at a new location offering a broader range of items.
During my visit to one store, I spotted the usual thrift store treasures — a set of skis, vintage Coca-Cola bottles, and an extensive collection of Garth Brooks CDs — but what struck me the most was the store’s organization. Books were on shelves labeled by topic. A greeting card center (!!) was arranged by card type. I also received a free gift — a set of heart-shaped measuring spoons — with my purchase. Barbee attributes these special touches to volunteers.
“From a volunteer standpoint, it is all about passion,” he says. “It generates a lot of loyalty from customers and those in the community.” Each store prides itself on creating a great experience for shoppers, Barbee says. SVdP clients may come to shop for necessities while other customers include bargain hunters, students and avid recyclers. Some customers come in just to chat with store volunteers, Barbee says.
Though we talk a lot about an economic recovery, Georgia’s poor are still struggling and SVdP continues to serve them daily. To meet the community needs, SVdP stores have had to aggressively solicit more donations — look for the upcoming Winter Woolies clothing drive — and find ways to keep shoppers coming back, Barbee says.
So I’ve already decided where I’ll be taking my next donation, and when I’m done, I’ll pop in the store to shop and chat.
For more information on SVdP thrift stores and locations, visit svdpatl.org.