When Juanita Poindexter-Tate heard the yelp of excitement from the book section, she went over to see what it was all about. It turned out that a customer had just found the book on rowing for which he had been looking. He could have gotten it from the internet, but it would have cost $21. At The Back Porch Thrift Store, it cost him 10 cents. There were actually two copies of the same book so he purchased both and left a happy customer.
“You have made my day,” he said.
Customers at The Back Porch Thrift Store find treasures like these every week. While they may not be as excited as this particular man was, they do find things that they wouldn’t be able to afford elsewhere.
As an adjunct of United Community Ministries (UCM), helping people is its mission. According to Sherry Clarke, the new manager, she believes that its mission is two-fold. The store is there to help the needy; clients receive vouchers from the UCM office that they use to purchase clothing and household items at the thrift store. If a woman needs a suit so she can interview for a job, her employment counselor can give her a voucher to be used at the shop to receive that item. The second purpose is to contribute revenues for UCM’s operating expenses.
With a massive renovation underway, the staff at The Back Porch is hoping that they can help accomplish these missions even better. Clarke and her staff, including floor manager Arlyce McKay and associate Juanita Poindexter-Tate, have been busy rearranging the floor space at 7838 Richmond Highway to make it more efficient; they will celebrate with a grand re-opening this Saturday. A whole new section will be setup in the front of the store for designer clothing and jewelry.
“One of the things we’re trying to do is broaden our customer bases and reach out to the public,” Clarke said. “I want revenues to increase and make the public more aware of the store’s potential role in the funding of UCM’s programs.”
NOT ONLY is the retail space greatly enhanced, but a new distribution center will enable them to store much more merchandise and hold things from season to season. Prior to this, all the donations were sorted and priced in the back of the store. Poindexter-Tate said that they will still sort the hard lines (linens, household items, etc.) in the back of the store, but employees in the distribution center will now sort the clothes.
“People like the clothing,” McKay said. “We try to make sure that the clothes are clean with no stains. Our boutique section will have a whole new look.”
So nice are some of the clothes that the Aldersgate women’s group holds a yearly fashion show exclusively showing fashions from The Back Porch. This year’s show is scheduled for Thursday, April 21 at 10 a.m.
Not everything sells for 10 cents, a very valuable China cabinet sold for $3,000 awhile back, and an old chamber pot brought in some good money as well. Clarke said that dealers like to shop at the store, and while they are also looking for a bargain, they will tell the staff if they think they can price something higher.
Clarke said that that have several dedicated volunteers who help appraise the more valuable items. Nancy Burns is among them and has stacks of books on hand to help with that process.
According to Clarke and Poindexter-Tate, McKay is “the queen of displays.” She has worked at The Back Porch for over 13 years and has an eye for arranging items.
McKay said that they have a lot of regular customers who come in not only to shop, but to bring the employees cookies and other goodies as well.
Poindexter-Tate has worked at the store for over five years, and said that she loves the customer and her co-workers.
“We’re treated like one big family,” she said.
As with all retail operations, The Back Porch has its share of theft and price-switching, but most of the customers are honest.
“We get all kinds of people — artists, theater people looking for costumes and jewelers looking for the bags of loose gems and beads that are sometimes packaged together. Clarke, who used to be the marketing operations manager for Time-Warner, knows that a lot of those former employees come in and look for books.
The Back Porch has been in existence since 1969, when it was co-located with the UCM office on North Kings Highway. It moved to Fordson Road in 1984 and then to the Mount Vernon Crossroads Shopping Center in 1992. In 1999, the store re-located with the Workforce Development Services office to this larger space, still in the Mount Vernon Crossroads shopping center.