Ulster thrift stores band together to expand reach

From left, Andrea Epstein, Lynn Tator, Barbara Bender and William Todd Levinson. (Photo by Christina Coulter)

Frequent thrifters: Now, you can keep track of all of your favorite area thrift stores using one page on Facebook.

Once thought of as dingy collections of musty clothes in church basements worn mostly by the homeless and punk rockers, both thrift stores and, in its new verb form, thrifting have both been redeemed in the last decade. Thrift stores are now en vogue and trend-setters shopping at thrift stores on low-budget outings are as seemingly as common on Instagram as cat pics.


But just as they always have, non-profit thrift outfits still play the same role in the community: raising money for churches, animal shelters and other not-for-profit groups. But with a new societal push toward both minimalism and repurposing, thrift stores have of late risen to a more exalted place in the collective consciousness. So it only makes sense that the way a thrift store is run would change, and with this realization, area thrift stores have banded together to collaborate and co-advertise, both on paper and on social media. Now, a number of local stores communicate and advertise via the “Ulster County Thrift Stores” Facebook page, which can be followed by shoppers looking for attractive sales and deals and area thrift store volunteers looking to exchange strategies for better sales.

“People have no idea how many different lives are touched by a thrift shop, not just the shopper but where the money is going after that shopper leaves,” said William Todd Levinson of Fairly New Thrift Shop in Kingston, which is affiliated with the Fair Street Reformed Church. Levinson started the Ulster County Thrift Store Guild along with Marlene Costa of Kingston’s Comforter Cobblestone Thrift Store, which is affiliated with the Reformed Church of the Comforter. “It used to be, thrift shops would be opened and they would be in the dark basement of a building and be musty and moldy … I think there used to be a stigma attached with going to thrift stores, it’s going to be smelly, disorganized — that stigma has very much gone away.”

The aim of the Ulster County Thrift Store Guild Facebook group is, according to Levinson, to advertise “every single thrift shop can share every single sale that’s going on” in one place.

After covering mortgage and overhead, profits at Fairly New go toward a number of causes — Family of Woodstock’s Washbourne House, which provides housing and services to victims of domestic violence; the Metropolitan Knothole League, a kids’ baseball league that needed a helping hand after their league-funding concession stand burnt down; gift cards that are given to area schools for use by children whose families may not be able to afford clothing or school supplies; and a slew of other causes. The shop is totally manned by volunteers, and there isn’t room in the budget for advertising. But social media outlets are free to use and help bring people in.

“We all function, but we can also share,” said Levinson. “As we’ve learned, many of these thrift shops don’t have people qualified to work with technology. Social media for us is very important and it’s been a very useful tool. We advertise on our Facebook page. I see the views that we get on our Facebook page and it’s enormous.”

In addition to establishing social media presence, the guild was started for the not-for-profit groups to become more aware of each other and to share ideas.

“Our first meeting was fabulous — maybe 15 or so people who ran local charity thrift stores joined,” said Berns Rothchild, who works with Pine Hill Community Center Thrift Store. “We asked each other questions like, ‘How do you figure out pricing?’ ‘What do you do with things that don’t sell?’ and ‘Where to you store donations?’”

The group printed up a list of the area thrift and their contact information, which can be picked up at any of the 18 guild stores.

“We don’t have the extra money and finances to advertise,” said Arlene Sharrett Ruff, one of 20 volunteers manning the Happy Paws Thrift Store in Saugerties, which donates the entirety of its proceeds to the Ulster County SPCA. “It’s a free way to advertise, on Facebook — we reach so many more people by getting onto Facebook, or the Ulster County Thrift store page or the Ulster County SPCA [Facebook page.] I’ve noticed more people coming to the store, newer customers, and I owe it to Facebook and word of mouth.”

Guild members include: Twice Blessed Thrift Boutique in New Paltz; The Well (the thrift store run by the Saugerties Area Council of Churches) and Happy Paws in Saugerties; The Heaven Sent Thrift Shop and One More Time Thrift Shop in Highland; The Olivebridge & Samsonville UMC Thrift Shop in Olivebridge; the Formerly Yours Thrift Store in Phoenicia; The Pine Hill Community Center in Pine Hill; and many in Kingston, including the Aid Tibet Thrift Store, the Comforter Cobblestone Thrift Store, the Happy Apple Thrift Shop, The Holy Cross/Santa Cruz Thrift Store, House for Dogmanity, People’s Place, the New Marbletown Mission Thrift Store, The Ulster Habitat for Humanity ReStore and Fairly New Thrift Shop.

Those who love to shop second-hand, those who are interested in volunteering and thrift store staffers who would like a little social media guidance are all welcome to reach out on the group’s page.

“We’re agents for foster care to see inanimate objects find their new homes and see people get excited when something is just going to be a power object [for them,]” said Fairly New volunteer Andrea Epstein, holding a recently donated witch figurine that she had grown attached to. “You see all kinds of people in all walks of life. You don’t have to not have money to come here. We all come here for the therapy, too. It’s that kind of a place.”

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