HISTORY OF THE YPSILANTI THRIFT SHOP: 75 YEARS OF SERVICE TO THE COMMUNITY
“A Permanent Rummage Sale”
During World War II, when the small, sleepy town that was Ypsilanti at the time was flooded with 100,000 workers for the Willow Run bomber plant, the Thrift Shop Association of Ypsilanti was founded. A small group of women involved with the city’s community fund met at the Huron Hotel on April 9, 1942, to plan for a shop that would serve a two-fold purpose. It would put used clothing and other articles to good use, and the profits would help meet the social needs not being met by other agencies.
The by-laws defined the purpose of the organization as “an independent organization for the purpose of conducting a permanent rummage sale, the proceeds from which, over and above operating expenses, shall be used for charity.”
The “rummage sale” might have been permanent, but it was many years before the thrift shop found a permanent home.
First Location—and an Age-old Problem
The first shop location was a building that had been a tin shop at 35 East Cross Street in Depot Town, now a medical marijuana dispensary. All went well until the volunteers, all women, noticed that the tin shop owner and his friends were spending entirely too much time hanging around the store, playing cards and watching them as they went about their work, to the point that they felt uncomfortable with the unwanted attention. As a result, the women decided to find a different location as soon as possible. They moved to 510 West Cross Street, but that building was too far from the business district to attract customers, so it was time to pack up and move again. The third shop opened at 2 South Adams Street, an address that was convenient for downtown shoppers.
Bundle Teas, Auctions, and Long-term Commitments
In 1944, the membership established a fund for children at Beyer Hospital–the first of many community commitments the Association would make to the city of Ypsilanti and surrounding area. To keep the shop supplied with merchandise, bundle teas and auctions were held at the Ladies Literary Club or in members’ homes. These events brought in hundreds of packages of clothing, household items, antiques, and jewelry that the members had solicited from friends and neighbors. At one auction, a hat once worn by Hedda Hopper was offered and brought quite a large sum. A newspaper report from 1969 noted that one bundle tea netted 140 bundles of items to be donated.
That same newspaper article noted that, of the original 83 members of the shop, 18 were still volunteering in 1969.
Moving On…and On…
In spite of fundraising efforts, the lack of operating funds was a constant worry. Each new location required cleaning, painting, updates, and repairs that were often quite expensive. In 1960, the shop moved to 9 South Washington, almost across the street from our current location. It was during the occupation of this site that the Association celebrated its first 25 years of community service. But in 1969, the shop moved yet again, to 40 North Huron Street. A newspaper report, complete with photo, noted the amount of work that the members had put into the new rental property:
Members say happily that the dreary look has been banished by the newly paneled walls, new racks for skirts and dresses and special shelves for curios, as well as a new wrapping counter.… The shop is decorated for Christmas and stocked with Christmas merchandise.
After the extensive and expensive remodeling of the property described in the newspaper, the landlord informed the group that he had rented the space to someone who was willing to pay more rent than the Association could pay and their lease would not be renewed.
Time for a Permanent Home
It was the last straw. The Association began looking for a space to buy, to put an end to the rentals and all the issues that came with renting. They finally found a former warehouse at 14 South Washington Street. The vintage building was owned by Atwood McAndrew, owner of Mack & Mack Furniture, and it was being used strictly for storage. The building was not really for sale, but the Association talked McAndrew into selling it for $16,000. There was no running water and no heat–and, of course, no obvious retail space: no paint, no permanent walls, no carpet–which meant a lot of work had to be done—again. Paint, electrical materials, a gas furnace, and ductwork were donated to the shop, and on many Saturdays, volunteers worked hard to make the building habitable.
On April 2, 1974, the building was ready and was officially opened at the location the shop has occupied ever since in downtown Ypsilanti. Helen Milliken, wife of then-Governor William Milliken, was the guest of honor and cut the ribbon. The ceremony was preceded by a tea attended by members, customers, and well wishers from the business community.
Operations were finally going smoothly, and the mortgage was paid off in 1982, but In 1991, the Shop had to close for three months because of an arson fire that required extensive remodeling and repairs.
A Major Structural Problem
Ever since the final move to our permanent location, the Thrift Shop had been able to help local charities in many ways. But in 2016, the Association itself needed some help to keep going: The roof on our 100+-year-old building was leaking, causing damage to wood and masonry as well. Under President June Gordon, we undertook an extensive campaign–widely supported by many Ypsilanti businesses and individuals from all over the area–to raise the money to install a new roof and repair the damage. The campaign was successful, and we are once again snug and in good repair.
The shop was open only on weekdays until 2010, when it was decided to open on Saturday mornings. During our roof fund campaign, we became aware that many local residents had never heard of or visited the shop, so in 2015, we added extended hours on Farmers’ Market Tuesdays (until 6 PM), and in 2016 we began staying open on First Fridays until 8 PM, to give people who work regular jobs more of a chance to visit. In 2017, we became an official First Friday Ypsilanti venue.
Where We Are 75 Years Later
Our average monthly income at the shop is about $5,000, and we are able to give about 80% of that to Ypsilanti area charities. (The rest goes to basic expenses–taxes, insurance, snow clearing, savings for repairs, and the like.) The shop contributes regular monthly sums to Hope Clinic, Meals on Wheels, and Friends in Deed. In December we send donations to half a dozen other local charities. A volunteer Social Service Chair, who works directly with case managers, housing directors, and social workers, gives money through them to help individuals with emergencies–rent security deposits, car repairs, medical expenses, utility payments, funeral expenses, and public transportation. We also give vouchers for a limited number of free items to the clients of various agencies who need help getting back on their feet or just to keep going through a rough patch.
The shop has three display rooms, an office, and a small dressing room. The main rooms are devoted to clothes for men, women, and children, linens, shoes, books, toys, and purses. The third room has all household items, records, seasonal items, and odds and ends.
Of course, everything we do depends upon our members, since we are a volunteer organization with no profits going to salaries. Volunteers do it all–man the cash register and assist customers, accept donations, price and display new merchandise, and take care of all of the tasks that any charitable organization requires. In 2017, we have 85 active members, 20 life members (with 20 years or more of service), and 21 associate members. If you would like to join us in helping our community, click on the VOLUNTEER tab on our Web site and fill out the volunteer application. Volunteers are required to work only 3 1/2 hours a month, although you can always work more. There’s always plenty to do!
WE THANK AND HONOR OUR FOUNDERS
Mrs. Alton Cassady
Mrs. Robert Daily
Mrs. Flossie Feiner
Mrs. W. W. Snyder
Mrs. Laurence Thomas
Mrs. Daniel Quirk