The East Valley Lutheran Thrift Shop has been through its share of growing pains over the years.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Since it opened in 1999, the not-for-profit resale shop has been housed in three different Mesa locations, with its current site at 4517 E. Main Street, near the southeast corner of Main and Greenfield Road. And each of the moves have come for virtually the same reason, too: the shop simply needed more space.
Office manager Megan Morris said the prior locations, all near the same intersection of its current space, were vacated because of a continual increase in donations.
And with those donations, have come a jump in sales — to the tune of a 17 percent increase in revenue in fiscal year 2012, the store’s leadership says.
So far this year, the shop has sold more than 218,000 items, Morris noted. In all, the store expects to sell half a million items by year’s end since the shop’s traditionally biggest months — November and December — are still yet to come.
While every item – from clothing to household goods, furniture to jewelry — is donated by the community, it also goes through a rigorous sorting and inspection process by one of the shop’s many volunteers before being put up for sale. The inspection point includes ensuring that an item is of proper cleanliness, and that it’s not counterfeit. Most items unworthy for resale are recycled in bulk, and in return it receives an undisclosed payment for the recyclables.
“And knowing the kind of numbers that we are putting out the door really has had an impact on our volunteers,” Morris said.
General manager Nina Mirco said the shop has about 300 volunteers year-round, in addition to eight full-time employees — three of them drivers who transport large donations. A percentage of sales are used to pay the bills and its employees.
The Lutheran Thrift Shop’s purpose as a not-for-profit is multi-faceted. Sales of the store’s donated, pre-owned goods generate funding for grant-making efforts, in addition to serving its “corporate purpose,” explains Kate Adelman, board of director president of East Valley Lutheran Thrift Shop Inc.
That corporate purpose, Adelman notes, is to generate money for the Grand Canyon Synod and its “90-some congregations that are across parts of Nevada, parts of Utah and all of Arizona.”
Adelman said the shops’ increasing revenue numbers make numerous grant opportunities possible each fiscal year, adding that the East Valley shop has never fallen short of its contribution goal since the year it opened.
Of the net sales this fiscal year at both resale locations – the corporation owns an independent sister shop in Tucson – Adelman said 25 percent will be granted to welfare services and other organizations outside of the synod to affiliates such as the Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest (LSS-SW) an “innovative, faith-based human service provider,” the Community Alliance Against Family Abuse (CAAFA), along with various area food banks.
“There’s nothing more fun than giving money away,” Adelman said. “And for the volunteers and the people working really hard at the store, there’s nothing more fun for them either, they feel like they are really accomplishing something.”
Adelman said the board of directors has a team of reviewers who decide on which applicant will receive a grant. Grants are provided in various amounts, up to a general high of $10,000, and Adelman said both locations have already raised more than $250,000 for grants this year.
LSS-SW and CAAFA, as examples, are service agency partnerships that evaluate families and individuals based on need. The organizations hand out vouchers to spend at the thrift shop, office manager Megan Morris said.
Through mid-July, the store received more than 130 vouchers this year worth a total of $6,400. Last year’s total was estimated at $10,000, Morris said. People can redeem their in-kind vouchers, worth up to about $50, to purchase items at the shop from clothes to furniture to household appliances.
In addition to support from the community in the form of donated items, Lutheran Thrift Shop also relies on growing its customer base.
Mirco said about 30-40 new customers shop each day just by word of mouth, while Morris noted the value special events bring to the equation; the store offers half-price sales every third Saturday, a Christmas in July sale, and silent auctions for higher-price items.
“We’re always looking for ways to grow our audience through marketing and special events,” she said.
In terms of pick-up donations — ultimately to stock shelves for a frugal public — summer 2013 has been “quite wonderful,” Morris said.
Volunteers shared their comfort with working and shopping at the store.
“I loved when I first came in this shop it was like a store — everything’s clean, everything works, everything is in order — so that’s what impressed me,” said Johanna Trujillo, who began as a volunteer at the second shop location.
And while it has “Lutheran” in its name and has a noticeably Christian atmosphere, whether you’re “Catholic or Jewish makes no difference,” Mirco said.
“Thrifting is a wonderful way to experience the community,” she added.
Corey, a junior studying journalism at Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is an intern for the East Valley Tribune. Contact him at (480) 898-6514 or firstname.lastname@example.org.