Proceeds from 15-year-old resale benefit local schools
By Casey Hans
What started as a community yard sale at Tappan Middle School in the spring of 1994 has taken root and expanded into a substantial, nonprofit thrift shop with donations benefiting the students of The Ann Arbor Public Schools.
Each year, thousands of dollars in proceeds from The Ann Arbor PTO Thrift Shop are given back to the schools for a variety of extracurricular programs.
Located in a rented 18,000-square-foot space in what is now known as “Resale Row” along Industrial Highway in Ann Arbor, the thrift shop offers everything from a full room of books and music to “departments” featuring furniture, clothing, jewelry, small appliances and housewares. It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and is overseen by a volunteer board of directors.
At the heart of it all is store Manager Susan Soth and 16 mostly part-time staff. Soth started as a volunteer in the store, eventually working her way to assistant manager, then into the top job.
“I just fell into it and really, really love the idea,” she said. “And I believe in recycling too, so this is a win-win for me.”
Soth can be found sorting and working alongside her staff, but she also keeps an eye on displays in the store and tries to keep the display floor as user-friendly as possible. “I set it up as if I were shopping here,” she said “I want to be able to find what I’m looking for.”
She said the staff takes care to get the most money that they can for unique items, while keeping everything reasonably priced. She said they often price unique items received on eBay to determine their value and sometimes sell there to make more money for the store – and ultimately the schools. About 15 Ann Arbor schools are involved with the thrift shop, volunteering time and doing donation drives there.
“We get new donations in every day. The treasures you find here are like no others,” Soth said. “Everything gets recycled. We are one of the cheapest as far as our merchandise (prices) go.”
Items are marked down weekly – sometimes up to 50 percent off – and there are always specials posted on the Web site and alerts about specials are sent to members of the group’s Facebook fan page. If clothing goes unsold in the shop, it is bundled and sold in bulk to a textiles wholesaler. Nothing goes to waste, Soth said.
The shop’s mission is first and foremost to bring money back into the Ann Arbor schools, said Ann Holz, a member of the nonprofit’s board and one of the founders of the shop. But, the shop also prides itself on helping the community by offering good merchandise at reasonable prices.
“We’re helping people in this recession. That was part of our mission when we set this up: To be a service to the community.”
Shoppers from Ann Arbor and elsewhere
Shoppers from Ann Arbor frequent the store, such as Nana Yawson, who stops in a few times each month to find new treasures. Today, he has picked up a clipper ship model and is browsing the art books. “I’ll pick a topic of research and then come in and find related books,” he said. “Today, I’m going for the art side. It depends on what mood I’m in.”
But the store also draws from outside of the Ann Arbor area. Kim Hutton and Amy Pahl, sisters from Jackson, made a trip to Ann Arbor just to visit the Ann Arbor PTO Thrift Shop. Hutton said she bought a couch here on a previous visit, but sometimes they are small things. “My girlfriend lives in Grass Lake and she turned me onto it, “said Pahl who had picked out some household goods.
Lisa Marimpietri of Monroe was visiting with her son, Joshua, 5, and daughter, Jesica, 11. All had their heads in the book section. “When I’m out here (in Ann Arbor), I come by,” she said. “I home school, so I always look for books.”
And while items are going out the front door, more are coming in the back.
Spencer Robinson, a 2007 graduate of Huron High School, worked as a volunteer in the store while he was in high school. Today, he attends Washtenaw Community College and works there, picking up large items that area residents want to donate. “Everyone’s doing their spring cleaning,” he said, unloading a collection of filing cabinets.
The PTO Thrift Shop offers free pickup of furniture and large items in and around Ann Arbor, including in Dexter, Saline and Ypsilanti. The more that is sold, the more comes back to the schools. “That’s the name of the game: Get the money in and get it back out to the schools,” Soth said.
Because of its mission, the store is unique, she said. “I feel every child should have the opportunity to go on their school trips,” she added. And the PTO Thrift Shop helps many do just that, by groups fundraising for these trips and the funds earned getting distributed equally among the students in that group.
In order to receive money, individual schools must have a designated PTO representative to the store. Activities benefit individual school PTOs which receive the funding. The more they volunteer and participate, the more money they can make. Money is distributed to PTOs in September, January and May.
Soth said there are many types of fundraisers, but three are the most popular with schools:
- Show Your Support: For two weeks, three schools have jars on the store counter. Shoppers get a token for every $5 they spend and can “vote” for their favorite schools. The school with the most tokens gets $500, the second-place winner gets $375 and the third-place school $200. “They’re all winners, Soth said. Schools must have a participation PTO representative and have donated a minimum of 20 hours of time to the store.
- Donation Drive: Fill up a truck with donations of any type including furniture, clothing, etc. and the thrift shop will donate to the school. A full truck brings $1,000.
- Music and Munchies: Student musical groups come from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on scheduled days and play for the thrift shop’s customers and bring in snacks. The thrift shop donates $750 to each group. Students can also do demonstrations or workshops, highlighting special skills such as storytelling.
“We’re still trying to come up with more ways to get more money to the schools,” she added. Last year, $30,000 was donated to school groups, down from previous years due to a ruling that does not allow volunteers to work at the store and receive donations to individual students and their trips and projects; donations now go strictly to groups, she said. In previous years, schools have received upwards of $90,000 per year, she said.
Holz said although the shop has full- and part-time staff, they still rely upon the community. “I think that their support is essential,” she said. “To shop in the store, to donate goods to the store and to give time to the store. It’s critical.”
Store gets a modest start
The Ann Arbor model was based on one in Chapel Hill, NC. Holz, who had visited the North Carolina store and brought the idea back to Ann Arbor, said she recalled the early days, working with the school district’s then-deputy superintendent for planning and business services, Bill Wade, who was a huge supporter in helping them get off of the ground.
The original yard sale at Tappan included donations from that school as well as the communities of Angell, Bryant-Pattengill and Burns Park and was a rousing success. The event collected items for months then hosted the sale, which had a line-up around the school waiting to get in.
“It wasn’t the money that was important,” Holz said. “It was just a model to see if we could do it.”
The May 26, 1994 sale raised $4,882 and encouraged Holz and other organizers to move forward with plans for the store. “This (type of a project) doesn’t just happen,” she said. “The community has to really embrace it. They have to come in and participate.”
After spending one year at a leaky old building on Ann Arbor-Saline Road and many more years in locations in downtown Ann Arbor – surviving a fire in one location – the store is now in a more permanent spot on Industrial Highway just north of Eisenhower.
“When we were growing, we needed to get out in the community and get people to come into the store,” she added. “Now, we are truly a known quantity. People know when they bring something into the store, we take it very seriously.”
Holz said the thrift shop board is assessing the future and how the store can distribute more money to the schools. “Schools are struggling right now,” she said. “It’s a good way to give more money to the public schools. We’re here for the community of Ann Arbor.”
Casey Hans edits this newsletter for The Ann Arbor Public Schools. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 734-994-2090, internal ext. 51228.
Timeline for Ann Arbor PTO Thrift Shop
- December 1993 – Nonprofit files incorporation paperwork. Gauges interest in opening a thrift shop in the school communities of Tappan, Angell, Bryant-Pattengill and Burns Park.
- Winter 1994 – Group starts collecting items to include in a community thrift sale. Items are stored in the Tappan basement in preparation for the spring sale
- May 1994 – Organizers host the communitywide thrift sale, drawing hundreds to the Tappan cafeteria. Sale raises nearly $5,000 that becomes the seed money to start a thrift shop. Thrift shop opens in school district-owned building on Ann Arbor-Saline Road, where they stayed for about one year. They functioned at several other locations over the years including a site on State Street where the store was devastated by an April 2006 fire.
- Today: The current store occupies 18,000 square feet of rented space at 2280 S. Industrial Highway, where it has been for several years. The operation of the store relies on a mostly part-time staff and also on the dedicated work of hundreds of volunteers from the schools. The nonprofit is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors.
About the Ann Arbor PTO Thrift Shop
What: A 15-year-old nonprofit dedicated to the concepts of supporting The Ann Arbor Public Schools, recycling and offering quality goods to the community at reasonable prices.
Where: 2280 S. Industrial Highway, between Eisenhower and Stadium, along the area known as “Resale Row.”
Shopping hours: 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday.; 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday.
Donation hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday. No donations taken on Sunday. Free pickup of large items is offered in Ann Arbor, Saline, Dexter and Ypsilanti areas; call to schedule.
Details: 734-996-9155 or visit http://a2ptothriftshop.org/