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A Pink Goldmine

Springfield Women's Club store offers clothing deals, companionship for customers.

Although it may be tucked away, behind a Hispanic market and across the hall from a lawyer and insurance office, the Springfield Women’s Club’s Pink Elephant Thrift Shop is a well-known treasure trove.

“We have about 100 consignees who come by regularly, and not all of them are members of the club,” said Jean Gentry, president of the board for the small shop in the Concord Centre.

After 40 years, all in the same location, the Pink Elephant provides an opportunity for women to donate their clothes and knick-knacks and maybe find some good deals. It gives women who might not have as much money to spend on clothes a place to shop for gently used items. All the proceeds from the store, as much as $15,000 to $20,000 each year, go to charitable organizations.

“The club doesn’t spend the money we raise here, we donate all of it,” Gentry said. “We give to Boys’ State, Girls’ State, the local grade schools. We give to Multiple Sclerosis research. We make Christmas and Thanksgiving baskets. We give to the Ronald McDonald House.”

In addition, the group provides scholarships to graduating seniors and, last year, donated to the Red Cross for both Hurricane Katrina and tsunami relief efforts.

Open Monday-Saturday, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., the store is staffed by club members, who are required to work one six-hour shift every three weeks.

Gentry, a 20-year member of the club, said she enjoys working at the shop.

“If I weren’t here, I’d be volunteering at the hospital,” she said. “I like where the money goes and I’m glad we spend it on something worthwhile.”

WORKING AT THE store on Monday morning, July 17, Peggy Sillex said people can find some pricey donations if they’re willing to do some searching.

“I found a piece of Tiffany jewelry once time,” she said. A necklace came in from someone who may not have known its value, and after putting a price tag on it fair and square, she bought it that day.

“You can get some really nice pieces here,” she laughed.

Jane Wallentiny, who is not a member of the club, has been donating clothes since her own children were small.

“It’s a good way to keep your closets clean,” Wallentiny said. “I used to bring my kids’ things here when they outgrew them.”

Turning to Gentry, she said she remembered when new items were only put on display on Wednesdays.

Gentry also pointed out that they no longer accept donations of children’s items, “we just don’t have the room.”

Working at the store is “a step back in time,” said club member Diane Regan. In fact, it’s hard to even notice the complete absence of computers or cash registers in the store until someone points it out.

“People like the convenience of walking in and being able to talk with people,” Regan said. Plus, customers know they can find little trinkets or things that interest you and the prices are always good.”

A large portion of the customers at the Pink Elephant are “career girls who come in to shop and know how to look for a deal,” Gentry said.

Any items that are not sold within a month are taken to a local Veterans of Foreign Wars hall and put on sale for lower prices, she said. “Another lady picks up some knick-knacks and takes them to the Route One mission to sell to help provide food for the needy. Nothing goes to waste,” Gentry said.

She also said the club wouldn't be interested in moving the store if a bigger location opened up.

“There’s been an increase in customers from time to time, so I don’t think we need a bigger store,” she said. “People know we’re here.”

PERHAPS JUST as important as the monetary contributions generated by the Pink Elephant, the store provides a place for people to go and talk.

“We have some customers who just want someone to talk to,” Regan said. “We had one man who would come in every single day. He always bought something, but you could tell he just wanted someone to spend time with.”

For customers, stopping by the Pink Elephant is a good way to spend a few minutes. “It’s fun to look around,” Wallentiny said. “You can’t pass up a good bargain.”

Since it opened in 1964, the Pink Elephant has become "a cohesive unit for the club," said president Barbara Kiker. "We meet and get to know each other while we're working there," she said.

While working at the store, she has seen women who could not afford to shop in other stores come in and feel comfortable browsing through their racks.

"Women can shop in our store and hold their heads up high," Kiker said. "It provides a lot on so many levels."