Friday, September 17, 2010

Fauquier Hospital Thrift Shop Thrives on Main Street

This guest entry is by Connie Lyons, a Fauquier Health volunteer and freelance writer. Photo is by Peggy Cybrowski, also a hospital volunteer.

“The day we change the window display is a major event in Warrenton,” said Pat Miller, window designer for the Fauquier Hospital Auxiliary-run Warrenton Thrift Shop. “We almost have car wrecks on the street,” she said, grinning widely.

Pat and store manager Brenda Connally have been decorating the shop’s windows for 18 years; volunteer Martha McNichol also lends a hand at times. Pat said, “We tend to have theme-related windows, holidays, back-to-school, Father’s Day, things like that. Brenda is wonderful about sorting items into the relevant categories, numbering and pricing them and assisting with placing items in the window.”

The window display is changed every two weeks, except during the Christmas season, when it is changed weekly. On most window days, Pat wears a special pair of baggy overalls with lots of pockets. “They’re 15 years old,” she said, looking worried. “I’m going to have to replace them, and they’re not easy to find. Since I’m doing a lot of bending in full view of the passers-by, I have to be, shall we say… ‘selective’ about what I wear.

“The Christmas windows are especially enjoyable to do,” said Pat. “We get a huge number of Christmas items – enough for windows with angel themes, snowman themes and animated themes (like animated seals and flashing lights). We have to look at what we use with a creative spirit. It’s really fun making a ‘silk purse out of a sow’s ear.’ ”

Items displayed in the window can be purchased, but not removed until the window is changed; buyers get a receipt and claim their goods when the window is changed. “This sometimes makes it frustrating for the buyers, and in the case of out-of-towners it can be problematic,” said Martha. “But we have to preserve the look of the windows.”
Pat started as a volunteer behind the cash register, helping part time with the window displays. A native of Alabama, she moved to Warrenton when her husband was transferred to the area. While raising three daughters, she worked in the reading labs at Bradley Elementary School and Taylor Middle School and at Poplar Street, a local clothing boutique. A passionate devotee of square dancing, she has traveled as far as Wisconsin and Ohio to attend festivals. “It’s huge fun, and you get to meet people from all over the world.”

Pat said, “I love working on the windows. It’s good to feel like I’m helping people and the hospital. We get lots of regular customers; some of them need to save and some just love thrift shops. You get to know people, and it makes you feel like you’re part of the community.”
Past chairwoman of the Thrift Shop, Martha McNichol also square danced for a number of years. She is a Master Gardener, and does the gardening for St. John’s Catholic Church. Thirty-five years ago she moved here from Montana when, like Miller, her husband was transferred to the area. She worked as an aide at P. B. Smith Elementary and in JoAnn’s Fabric Shop. She works at the Thrift Shop front desk, helps price fabric, assists Pat and is responsible for the plants outside the store.

“The store is a thriving concern, thanks largely to the hard work of our volunteers,” said manager Brenda Connally. “Every year we donate between $20,000 to $30,000 to the hospital.”
The store has close to 70 volunteers, including those who fill in when needed. Brenda is the only paid employee.

“I do this because I love it,” she said. “It keeps me active. The volunteers are great and the customers are fun. It is hard to get away and take a vacation, and sometimes I have to come in on Saturdays if no one else is available. I work out at the LIFE Center so I can keep going up and down the stairs.”
Brenda’s domain is an attic space, jam-packed with treasures in the process of being discovered by the store’s eager patrons. She sorts things out and prices them, with the aid of volunteers.
Once in a while, the store gets some really unique items. “For a long time, we had a doctor’s wife who wore her clothes for one season and then donated the whole wardrobe to us. And sometimes we get some good jewelry and silver donated by estates that are being closed out.”
Sandra Brown, a member of the hospital’s Auxiliary Board, serves as chairman of the Thrift Shop. She has been volunteering at the Thrift Shop for more than nine years, since retiring from SunTrust Bank. Before starting her career in banking in 1985, she was employed by the Fauquier County school system, as an accompanist for the music departments at Taylor Junior High and Warrenton Junior High. She also taught choral music at Warrenton Middle School for a short time.
“I love it,” Sandra said of her work at the Thrift Shop. “As Thrift Shop chairwoman, I work closely with the manager. I volunteer at least one day a week at the shop. I also fill in when we’re short-handed and serve as a back-up for Brenda when she needs to be away from the shop. One of my favorite duties is training our new volunteers.

“Serving our customers is always a pleasure. Over the years you get to know the regular customers and talk with them about their lives,” she said. “Occasionally, a customer will come into the shop needing immediate help. One time we had a lady come in who had to make a court appearance. She was dressed in shorts and a tank top. So we all got together and coordinated an outfit for her. She looked great! We get a lot of people from out of town who are impressed with the cleanliness and order of the shop.”

Sandra added, “We’d be extremely happy to get young people involved in volunteering here. Sometimes we get students who are required by their schools to do volunteer service. They like to help with clearing out. Our volunteers are of varying ages. For some, working here is what gets them up and going in the morning and provides them with a sense of purpose.
“All of us connected in various capacities with the Thrift Shop are proud of our shop, proud of the service we provide and most of all, proud of the money we have raised over the years. That money in turn has been passed along to the hospital – thereby helping our community as well.”

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