It’s the end of the line for downtown thrift store

In 1967, Canada’s Centennial Year, members of St Mary’s Church, St Vincent de Paul Society, decided to go into retail to help families in Barrie. Joe Padfield, Joe Shaughnessy, and Ed Marion were among the founders of a Thrift Shop that opened its doors on Dunlop St.

The store was staffed by volunteers. It collected household goods, clothing, shoes, coats, sports equipment, baby carriages, high chairs, cribs, furniture etc.

The store opened on Barrie’s downtown main street, Dunlop. It was a different street in those days. Jane’s Stationery was their. Jack Oates had a paint, wallpaper and framing store. The Beamonts had an appliance store. Robinson’s Hardware sold absolutely everything. Zellers offered everything domestic–clothes, toys, household supplies, crafts, fabric.

Bill Clark had his furniture store. There were four drug stores–four of them!.. Tamblyns, Cusdens, Robertsons, and Ray Livingstone’s store on Collier St. Woolworths had 88cents days. Bill and Janet Burton had Laurence Knitting. And of course there was a Laura Secord store. Back in 1967 Jerry’s Radio and TV was selling stereo and television equipment. Jack Garner was selling sports equipment and Noel Stephenson was selling jewellery. The Players store was there. Crossland’s Drug Store gave way to Marks and Spencer and Jacksons Grill anchored the Cenotaph corner. There were two grocery stores on Dunlop St.

Dunlop St was where people shopped. It was the only place people shopped. No malls. No outskirts.
It was logical to open a thrift store so people could find bargains, could maximize their spending dollars.

The organizers set up shop at 106 Dunlop St E. Young families made their way. St Vincent de Paul often outfitted apartments and clothes closets for people in need. The store was a two way street… it received goods people no longer wanted AND it gave goods back, making money in the process.

In 1978 when our Kid One was born and we decided to live on one income while I started my writing business, the St Vincent de Paul Thrift Shop was a mainstay on our shopping route. Good quality hardly used baby clothes, and later blue jeans and coveralls, puzzles, trucks, winter coats, snow suits… it was all there for a young family making its way.

Two floors beckoned with clothes on the main floor and household goods on the ‘upper level.’ It was all part of shopping downtown. Over the years, the Thrift Store paid off its mortgage and owned its three-floor operation.

At the end of December, the Thrift Store doors will close for good. St Vincent de Paul has listed the building for sale (Giulia Rinaldi, Royal LePage), and there will be no more bargains.

There are a lot of reasons why. First of all, downtown has changed. The stores have become ‘shops’ and the wide assortment of goods and services has narrowed down to specialty shops with the exception of the change from Zellers to Dollarama. No drug store. No hardware store. No knitting shop. And people are going to malls, buying what they need at second hand stores, at discount stores, or at department stores with “economy” prices.

That’s one reason.

Karl Cadera has been overseeing the Thrift Shop for the past few years. “We started to lose money about seven years ago,” he said. “We weren’t able to maintain the salaries of the people we’d hired. Even though we own the building, the taxes, utilities and upkeep have to be paid. It’s just not profitable anymore.”

The other reason for the lack of profitability stems from the ‘garbage’ movement. It used to be you could take your old sofa, washer, fridge to the curb, call the city and they’d dispose of it. Now it’s a lot of work, and some expense, to divest oneself of goods. And so, on a regular basis, people ‘donate’ their old furniture and appliances to the rear of the St Vincent de Paul store. Large numbers of unusable sofas, chairs, appliances, freezers etc are deposited after hours.

It’s the store that has to find a way to get rid of this ‘merchandise.’ They have to get a truck, pay tippage fees at the landfill, hire workers to do this… expenses that add a heavy load to a store that’s losing money.

Karl points out that stores like Goodwill and Value Village offer free and easy parking and ‘big box’ atmosphere with room to roam, carts to push, change rooms and washrooms… all difficult amenities for the Thrift Shop to offer.

Karl said for now, they’re taking donations and selling to those who come in. But the deadline has been set and sold or not, the Thrift Store is closing on Dec 31.

It’s another change on Dunlop St. One more longstanding businessmaking way for something new.

For volunteers who’ve been working there for 40 years, it’ll mean a real emptiness in their lives. But for those with the original vision, the store has done good things. They made enough money to buy a house for recovering alcoholics. They’ve supplied a lot of people with start-up rent and food, given a lot of good support to families in need over the years.

St Vincent de Paul is not closing. It’s shifting to fill a new need in a new way. Funds from the sale of the building will fuel new initiative.

Stay tuned…