I love thrift stores, and sadly, some of my favorite ones have not stood the test of time.
The closings include Our Thrift in Franklin, the Salvation Army’s Gallatin Road store and ThriftSmart’s Franklin store, and even big ol’ Goodwill with 29 stores is down from the 34 it once had in Middle Tennessee.
But the This ‘n That Thrift Shop in West Nashville is still going strong as it celebrates 50 years in business this year.
The small parakeet green shop, at the corner of 51st Avenue North and Georgia Avenue, supports the preschool at St. Luke’s Community House.
St. Luke’s history stretches back to 1913 when it started providing help for the families of inmates at the nearby Tennessee State Penitentiary. As times changed, so did the mission of St. Luke’s, which now offers preschool child care, after-school programs, tax preparation services, senior services, a food pantry and other resources to the needy in the neighborhood.
A group of Episcopalian women planted the seeds for the thrift shop with a 1971 rummage sale to raise money for St. Luke’s daycare for children of working families in the hardscrabble neighborhood. The shop opened soon afterward.
“We did a survey of the neighborhood to see what was most needed,” said Shirley Lechleiter, one of the founders and a tireless volunteer. “The initial shop idea was to provide ongoing help for the daycare so families could work. We wanted something that would strengthen the whole neighborhood.”
This ‘n That, which is staffed entirely by volunteers (there is no paid staff), is known for its excellent book selection, including a children’s book nook where most books are $2 or less, its jewelry department (jewelry prices range from $1 to $500, but most of the pieces are under $20) and for the usually wonderful children’s clothes selection.
But the two biggest categories of sales are ladies clothing, including a popular boutique rack featuring higher-end brands; and bric-a-brac, which is a catchall category for general merchandise like household goods, home decor, knickknacks, etc.
I stop in this store more often than I’d like to admit, and although I almost always bring something to donate, I also almost always buy something, too. My recent finds include a like-new Patagonia vest for $5, a Pottery Barn children’s table for our grandchildren for $20, a set of four chairs for our porch (can’t remember the price), some cute pearl earrings for $5 and countless books for $2 or $3 apiece.
The This ’n That flyer says: “Visit often. Our selection of new items changes almost daily.”
And like with most thrift stores, if you see something you want, you better buy it on the spot, as disappointed regular shopper Mildred Woods lamented.
“I was in here yesterday and saw a $5 TV. I came back today with my son to check it out, and it was gone,” she said. “I should have bought it yesterday.”
“We hear that a lot,” volunteer Ron Watson said. “Many customers come in every week or even make multiple trips in a single week.”
Watson said the camaraderie between the volunteers and the customers is part of the shop’s success formula. “The volunteers constantly educate customers about how all of our merchandise is donated, all our workers are volunteers and by vocalizing that our work supports the work of St. Luke’s,” he said.
“All of us who work here feel we are contributing to helping others we will likely never meet,” he said, adding that many of the volunteers “feel that working at the shop is part of their Christian outreach.”
The shop does not disclose specifics of its donations to St. Luke’s, but Watson said the little shop has contributed “several million dollars to the operation of the preschool at St. Luke’s, with a substantial percentage of the total having been contributed in the past 10 to 12 years.”
With COVID-19 concerns, the shop is not able to have a big anniversary sale but will continue its practice of posting current promotions and sales on its whiteboard by the checkout counter.
Mary Hance, who has four decades of journalism experience in the Nashville area, writes a weekly Ms. Cheap column. She also appears on Thursdays on “Talk of the Town” on NewsChannel 5. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her at Facebook.com/mscheap.