Thirty years in, thrift store doing its best at doing good

Carol Abrahams has used her gifts for display and marketing to help double sales at the Hillsboro Et Cetera Shop through the first six months of 2007. The store, which uses proceeds to help support the worldwide relief and development efforts of Mennonite Central Committee, will be celebrating its 30th anniversary Saturday with refreshments and a 30 percent discount off store items. Don Ratzlaff / Free Press. Click image to enlarge

On the eve of its 30th anniversary, a Hillsboro business that has done so much good over the years has never done better than it is right now.

Since its founding in July 1977, The Et Cetera Shop has been collecting and reselling used clothing and other items to raise money for Menno?nite Central Committee, an international relief and development agency jointly sponsored by various Mennonite denominations across North America.

In recent years, the store?s board of directors, comprised of appointed representatives from six area Mennonite congregations, has added Main Street Ministries in Hillsboro as a recipient of its proceeds to the tune of $2,000 to $2,500 a year.

Until a year ago, the Et Cetera Shop was sending between $1,500 and $3,000 a month to support MCC?s work among the world?s needy, according to Bonnie Funk, board treasurer.

These days, the contribution has jumped to between $5,000 and $6,000 a month as store revenue has increased dramatically. Through the first six months of 2007, sales have doubled from the first six months of 2006.

?I really find that exciting because there is a lot of little items (that sell),? said Funk, who has been bookkeeper since 1998 and a board member for almost as long.

?It?s mind-boggling that it can bring that kind of money.?

Funk and other board members credit most of the increase to the work of Carol Abrahams, who was hired as store manager last August.

?Carol has done wonders for the store and I really can?t commend her enough,? said Helen McMinn, a board member since 1984 and board secretary since 1985.

?She loves this kind of work and is fantastic in the way she arranges things?color-wise and everything else. She just does a great job with that.?

Added Funk: ?The whole look (of the store) is different. She?s just got a wonderful way of displaying things. Sometimes things I think will never sell, she puts them out there and knows how to display them?and they?re gone.

?She?s got the knack for it,? Funk added. ?She?s a good people-person, she?s got good PR with people. We just feel that God sent her to us.?

About the only person who isn?t singing the praises of Abrahams? work is Abrahams herself.

?It?s mainly rearranging the store and making sure our things are clean, and having the merchandise to do it?and being nice to people so they come back,? Abrahams said, deflecting the attention from herself to her sizeable staff of around 35 volunteers, which includes the 15 or so people who serve on the board.

?If it wasn?t for the the volunteers, we wouldn?t be having a store,? Abrahams said. ?You?ve got to have people to help. It hasn?t been just me. There?s a lot of people who give it all they have to make the store what it is.?

Abrahams came to the Et Cetera Shop after 12 years with Salvation Army stores.

?I managed probably for about 11 years, and then for a year I supervised eight stores,? she said. ?We had seven in Wichita and one in Newton.

?What I mainly did was go to the stores and rearrange them and market the merchandise?displaying it where people could see it without having to dig through it and look for it.?

Funk said Abrahams asked for that kind of license when she interviewed for the Et Cetera Shop.

?That was the first thing she said, ?If you hire me I?m going to totally revamp this store.? And she did. It is no longer a junk store,? Funk said.

In addition to Abrahams? skills, the store also has benefited from the acquisition of a clothes baler?a machine located at the MCC regional headquarters in North Newton.

Purchased with contributions of $5,000 each from Et Cetera Shop stores in Hillsboro, Newton and Hutchinson, the machine bundles clothing and shoes that don?t sell. The square bales are then sold to the highest bidder?usually for around 13 cents a pound for clothing and 45 cents for shoes.

Bidders then ship the bundles to places around the world where recipients otherwise would lack adequate clothing.

?I think the $5,000 that each of our stores put into it is well worth it,? Funk said. ?We?re making money at it for MCC, and it really works well.?

The baler also enables the local store to accept donations of clothing from the public that it would have otherwise hesitated to accept because the items that are not in good enough shape to sell in the store can still serve a good purpose.

?Nothing is wasted,? Abra?hams said. ?It?s recycled, and (people who receive the clothing) are really happy to get it.?

Humble beginnings

Starting an Et Cetera Shop in Hillsboro was the brainchild of Kaethe Warkentin, a retired Tabor College professor who died this past January at age 91.

Warkentin, herself a survivor of economic need from her girlhood days in Europe, wrote a check for $80 to rent a small space in front of the local bowling alley for a month.

?She went on faith that she?d be able to cover that with her sales,? McMinn said.

Within two months, the enterprise outgrew its location and was moved to the former American Legion building on Main Street, now occupied by Little Pleasures Coffeehouse.

In December of that year, Warkentin turned over management of the store to Milford and Kathryn Blair, who continued in that role through July 1984.

?I think she had the idea that more people would participate, and it would become a community thing rather than just her thing?and it has become that,? said Ruby Dalke, who, along with husband Warren, are the senior members of the board after signing on in 1978.

?I remember hearing a lot about her,? McMinn said of Warkentin. ?She would come into the store quite often and just check the store out and buy a few things. And she would make the yarn balls that she would bring in and donate to the store. She was great.

?I remember how focused she was in the Et Cetera Shop, how positive she was and how encouraging she was that we needed to keep it up of we could.?

Under the Blairs? management, the store outgrew the old Legion building too. In July 2003, the board purchased the former Ben Franklin store at the current location of 109 N. Main.

?When we were where the American Legion building we were so cramped and crowded,? Funk recalled. ?Things were just all shoved together and we had (international craft items) in there at that time.

?When we got this building we are in now, it was fantastic,? she added. ?We couldn?t believe all the room we had.?

A sense of ministry

The current board has considerable longevity, which has given the store continuity in leadership?although some members expressed the need to recruit some younger members so the positive experience they have enjoyed is carried into the future.

?As a board we really work well together,? Funk said. ?The six churches that own the Et Cetera Shop really have a good thing going. We?ve got good representatives. We just all get along really, really well.?

Dalke said the inter-church cooperation in itself has been a positive outgrowth of the store.

?When I was a kid, there was always the division between General Conference Mennonites and the (Mennonite Brethren),? Dalke said. ?We?ve come to accept each other as equals, that we?re all children of the Lord. In that way, we?ve grown and it?s a good thing.?

?Christ is the center if what we?re doing,? Funk added. ?That?s what we?re about.?

In addition to making policy decisions and hiring staff, most board members volunteer each Monday to sort through the latest pile of clothing and other items the public has brought in to the store.

?That helps tremendously,? Abrahams said of the effort. ?They go through all the clothes, and if it has a spot on it, or it?s not in real good shape, it gets put into barrels and then it goes to Newton for recycling.?

To a person, board members interviewed said it?s a sense of mission and ministry that has kept them on the board for so many years. In addition to supporting MCC?s work around the world, the ministry also is local.

?I have found it to be that, and would hope everybody has, too,? McMinn said. ?It?s just a way of returning something to the community, giving a little of yourself?and other things, too.

?If somebody doesn?t have money to buy something, we might just give them a little bit. If people have a fire, we?re known to provide them with stuff. It?s just great.?

Added Funk: ?We serve a need for people who can?t buy new stuff at a regular store. Children?s clothes we get come in like new because they outgrow them so soon.

?There should be no child in this town that should have to wear raggy clothes, because they can come here and get good clothes for just pennies.

?I feel it is a ministry that I can do,? Funk added. ?I just find a lot of satisfaction in it.?

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