In the current economic instability, at least one business in downtown La Verne is still thriving. The Lutheran High Thrift Store continues to provide locals in search of bargains and students on budgets a thrifty way to buy clothes, kitchen accessories, books, shoes and accessories.
“We’re doing well for the way times are,” Manager Elvira Stueve said. “I think that we’ve had a slight increase in sales this past year.”
All of the profit from the store goes straight to support Lutheran High School. Last year the store raised $100,000 for the school; the largest amount during its history in La Verne.
The money raised is contributed to a specific project each year. In previous years, the money has outfitted the classrooms at Lutheran High with air conditioners SmartBoards, and supplies.
Stueve said that the store is full of people eager to hunt out bargains and keeping up with the demand, especially recently, is a challenge. The economic downturn has not decreased the business at the store, though it has affected their availability of merchandise.
“Right now we’re very short on donations. I think people are hanging onto things,” Stueve said.
Other stores which sell used items agree that the number of donations has decreased this year, making it harder to do business.
“People are reusing their items and second-hand stores are short on supplies now,” said Emma Rodriguez, employee of Helping Hand Thrift Shop in Los Angeles.
“We have noticed a definite trend: people are really reluctant to give us old stuff. We used to have so many donations that there wasn’t even enough storage space,” Magic Door Used Books owner Dwain Kaiser said. “Now the demand for used books is up and we are going through all our supplies for the first time in years.”
But Lutheran Thrift Shop has managed with the donations it has received and expects to turn another large profit this year.
Stueve has worked at the La Verne store for the past six years and been manager for the past five. But the store wasn’t always so prosperous.
“When I first came here, you could not even get in the back door because it was such a mess. It took a while to get it organized. It took a whole year just to get on our feet,” Stueve said.
The previous manager left no records about the store. Stueve was left with nothing to direct her business venture and spent a great deal of time catching up on paperwork.
Once Stueve took over managing, she stressed her standard of running an organized business selling only clean items. Stueve believes that her store has been so successful because of these standards she has upheld.
“If you can make people feel like they are buying new items even when they are shopping at a secondhand store, customers will be more willing to pay,” JoAnn Kaiser, co-owner of Magic Door Books, said.
The condition of the donations Luthern Thrift Shop receives varies, but Stueve has a critical eye for choosing the very best items to sell.
“We have enough good stuff come through,” Stueve said, “We just need to sort it out from the rest.”
Stueve has designated certain jobs for each of heremployees, ensuring that all merchandise receives attention. Stueve emphasizes cleanliness of items before they every reach the floor for sale. When donations arrive, they are hand-sorted by two employees. One employee is responsible solely for cleaning any dirty items before they reach the floor and removing stains from clothes.
Many of the donations received include broken items.
“I guess people can’t part with their stuff and so they give it to us,” Stueve said.
All items are tagged with the date they are put up for sale and removed from the floor if they have not sold after four weeks. Every Wednesday, the Salvation Army brings a truck to collect all the donated items that have not sold.
Stueve said that this focus on organization combined with her strict budget has contributed to a successful business.
“We’ve come a long way,” Stueve said. “Of course I’m a little frugal too. I don’t spend money when I don’ have to.”
The biggest expense is the rent.
“It’s a good location and you pay for that,” Stueve said.
The thrift store has only one full time employee, three part time employees, and two seasonal employees, apart from Stueve.
Michael Anctil has worked at the store for five years full-time.
“I do just about everything here,” Anctil said.
Many volunteers also donate their time to the store.
“I’m happy with the volunteers we get,” Stueve said. “They’re all retired and just work for a few hours a week.”
Parents from Lutheran High School even help out volunteering on the weekends. Lutheran High asks their parents to donate 25 hours to community service; so many of them choose to spend it at the thrift store.
“I rely on the volunteers,” said Stueve. Without their help, the cost of labor would rise and the amount of profit given to Lutheran High would decrease.
Stueve started working at the thrift store as a volunteer.
“I retired about 10 years ago, but here I am. I retired from a full-time job and was looking for volunteer work,” Stueve said.
But she wouldn’t trade her days at the store for days at home. Stueve works at least three full days a week at the store and one full day doing the necessary paperwork and accounting duties.
“Working here is something I really enjoy,” said Stueve. “Its so different from a pressure-filled job.”
Stueve has even included her family in the operation of the thrift store. Her granddaughter Megan Stueve comes back from college during the summers to work at the store.
Megan Sebestyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.