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Shoppers hunt for buried treasures at East End thrift store

| Monday, July 2, 2007

Walking through a thrift shop is kind of like stopping at a garage sale -- sometimes you make great finds, sometimes there's junk, and sometimes you wonder what your neighbor is thinking.

Like with the rowboat that beached on the Penn Avenue curb in front of the East End Community Thrift Shop in Garfield. But it found a buyer within a month.

Volunteers with the Thrift Shop Squad, which meets the third Wednesday of every month, get to sort through donation boxes and browse at the merchandise before it goes on the racks.

"What surprises me is what people give away -- such great stuff with tags still on it, unused," volunteer Dolly Mason says.

Some of the not-so-new donations can be surprising, too.

"If you could think of something crazy to ask me, I bet we've had it here. The only thing we haven't gotten is animals," Mason says.

Not live ones, at least. Volunteer Tammy Carnevale remembers finding a stuffed boar among the donations.

"It looked real to me," Carnevale says.

Coordinator Shirley Gleditsch was looking for the size marking inside an old pair of boots when a petrified frog slipped out. "The frog almost came into my face. It was really scary," Gleditsch says.

Dead amphibians don't make it to the shelves of the Thrift Shop, but "We try to keep everything out of the Dumpster if we can," she said.

Volunteers have come across Waterford Crystal, kitchen china still in the box, an antique toy double-decker bus, Coach purses and bridal gowns.

The store also has essentials. Racks are stacked with clothing for men, women, kids and babies. Shoes of all styles and sizes are stacked on shelves. Unused cosmetics crowd the corners. There's a greeting card selection that could rival a Hallmark store. Helmets, swimsuits, Roller Blades, picnic baskets, golf clubs and other summer gear are stocked. The store's addition, Thrifty Furniture and Computers, gets enough donations to furnish several mansions, and the local Whole Foods even makes frequent donations of day-old bread that the shop gives away.

"People come in looking for gifts, and people come in looking for essentials," Mason says. There are "crafty people who are looking for materials and baubles. We have young people that look for vintage, and we have people that are looking for something special."

Then there are the donations that make you raise an eyebrow, like candle holders made of barbed wire, or a bucket of rusty nails.

When the store gets too inundated with donations, or when merchandise sits on the shelves for a year, the goods are sent to the Washington City Mission in Washington County, a Christian Homeless Rehabilitation Shelter, Gleditsch said. Any clothes or shoes that can't be used there are sold to a company that recycles them as insulation.

Prices are kept low, and any money that is made is donated to The Thomas Merton Center for Peace and Social Justice next door. Jeans and dresses start at $2; shoes, slacks and shirts at $1; and baby clothes at 25 cents.

Veronica Szabo started volunteering at the East End Community Thrift Shop in February after years of being a loyal customer. "I look through everything anyway, so I decided I might as well come and help."

Some of her most memorable finds include a fancy chaise lounge, and vintage dresses and skirts, as well as an old oxygen tank.

"It's still sitting in a corner," Szabo said. "I don't know what we're going to do with it."

East End Community Thrift Shop

Where: 5123 Penn Ave., Garfield

Phone: 412-361-6010

Hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tues.-Fri.; noon-4 p.m. Saturdays

Want to snoop, we mean sort, through the next batch of donations?

Call the shop and ask for Shirley or Dolly.

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