2010-02-11 / Top News

Bargains abound at ‘the oldest thrift store in Naples’

BY EVAN WILLIAMS ewilliams@floridaweekly.com

Volunteer Patty Bonner manages the boutique section at The Bargain Box, where she offers personal shopper services. EVAN WILLIAMS/ FLORIDA WEEKLY Volunteer Patty Bonner manages the boutique section at The Bargain Box, where she offers personal shopper services. EVAN WILLIAMS/ FLORIDA WEEKLY Many of the things on the shelves and racks at The Bargain Box reflect the affluence of the thrift store’s tony Fifth Avenue South neighborhood. There are plenty of clothes with brand-name labels— some hardly worn at all, a few of them new — most of which are donated as well as ultimately purchased by Bargain Box regulars.

Whether they use the shop as a place to take their cast-offs or to purchase their next new outfit, Bargain Box patrons are also decidedly fashion savvy. “You’re not getting grandma’s 1970s muu muu; you’re getting last season’s patterns and designs,” says Mollie Page, a spokesperson for the longest operating community thrift store in Naples.

Founded in 1975 under the auspices of the Naples United Church of Christ, the volunteer-run shop celebrates its 35th anniversary with an open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 13. The Rev. Cathy O’Connell will make a presentation at 1 p.m., followed by a performance of the Bay Singers choral group. Thrift shop volunteers are making refreshments to serve, and those who find something to buy — clothing and accessories, electronics, books, household necessities or decorative treasures — will enjoy an automatic 25 percent off the regular ticketed price and will have the chance to increase that discount to 35 percent at the checkout counter.

Customers from ner an far enjoy shopping at Naples’ oldest thrift store. COURTESY PHOTO Customers from ner an far enjoy shopping at Naples’ oldest thrift store. COURTESY PHOTO All profits from The Bargain Box — an estimated $1 million over the years — go to more than 50 charities of NUCC’s choosing, including St. Matthew’s House, Youth Haven and Grace Place for Children & Families. The shop has been a constant fixture in serving the needs of the Naples community and has fueled the church’s ability to achieve many of its community outreach goals, says Senior Pastor Dr. Ronald Patterson. The anniversary open house, he adds, “is more of a thank you to our supporters.

GRIDLEY GRIDLEY “Without donations from our church members and friends, we wouldn’t be able to provide the level of quality items we carry,” he says. “Likewise, without patronage from the community, we wouldn’t be able to serve the needs of those looking for affordable used merchandise.”

The 5,000-square-foot store is organized by departments, the most popular by far of which is the ladies boutique. Patty Bonner, one of more than 100 Bargain Box volunteers, set up the specialty area of the store last summer and even offers personal shopping services for women who appreciate advice in coordinating accessories for the clothing they choose. Since the boutique section opened, it has accounted for 30-50 percent of sales storewide, Ms. Bonner says. “It was an experiment, but it’s really gone over,” she says. “We’re so pleased.”

Among the recent items snapped up by savvy bargain-hunters scouring the boutique corner: a nearly new pair of Ferragamo boots for $50.

Store manager Jim Welty has held The Bargain Box’s only paid position since 2004. Formerly a district manager for a large retail store based in New Castle, Pa., he utilizes the same skills at the nonprofit thrift shop. “It really parallels itself,” he says, adding the biggest difference is at The Bargain Box, his staff consists entirely of volunteers.

“Here, you bring a person in, and they’re here two or three hours and then you don’t see them until next week… But these people have a lot of love, and they’re dedicated. They put forth as big an effort as they are physically capable of doing.”

A 13-year veteran of The Bargain Box ranks, Doty Gridley now helps train newcomers to handle store duties, from pricing and organizing donations and arranging and rearranging displays to checking out shoppers with purchases.

Ms. Gridley taught merchandising and marketing for 17 years and has also worked for retail stores in Boston, Mass., and Rochester, N.Y. At The Bargain Box, she still applies the four basic retail principles of product, place, price and promotion. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s my college bookstore or Macy’s or a thrift shop — you apply the basics,” she says. “Retailing is change, change of season. It’s always moving.”

As any experienced thrifter knows, the merchandise is, indeed, always moving; the bargains here this morning will likely be gone by noon, so the time to buy it is when you see it.

The deals at The Bargain Box are so good, Ms. Page says, that some of them sometimes end up for resale — with higher price tags, of course —at area consignment stores. “If you said, ‘Where’d you get this?’ they’d say, “Oh, we know someone who lives on Fifth Avenue,’” she says.

Apparently, the Bargain Box does, too. 

.. if you go

>> What: 35th anniversary celebration at The Bargain Box thift store >> Where: 331 Eighth St. S., at the corner of Third Avenue South >> When: Anniversary celebration and open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 13 >> Phone: 262-3801

Return to top