Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine “Community Interest” October 2008.
Non-profit Thrift Shopping in Napa: Everybody Wins
By Louisa Hufstader
True story: Less than two years ago, I weighed about 20 pounds more than I do now. It wasn’t vanity that led me to drop that avoirdupois. A blood test had revealed my risk for Type-2 diabetes. But I discovered that harnessing my vanity was a big help in lowering both my weight and my blood sugar. I literally dieted to fit into the nifty clothes I bought at local thrift shops.
I got off the doctor’s watch list this summer, and I owe a lot of my success to my two favorite non-profit thrifts in Napa: Community Projects, and Discovery Shops. Both of these stores carry donated clothes, including unworn items still with their tags. And, at both, I found terrific buys that helped motivate me to keep eating well and exercising.
When you’re scared for your health and you’ve never been on a diet before, it’s hard to justify spending a lot of money on garments that you hope to wear eventually, a few lost pounds down the line. While they hang, expensively, in the closet as you struggle with your weight, the guilt accrues until you’re tempted to reach for the ice cream and forget the whole thing.
The search for affordable wearables, not just “motivational” items that didn’t yet fit, but rather anything that would make me feel well-dressed or, at least not unbearably dowdy, as my weight fluctuated on its way down, led me to check out Napa’s second-hand shops, which come in two varieties: Non-profit and “for-profit.” For-profit consignment shops offer items placed by individuals who receive a portion of the sales price with the balance going to the shop owner. Non-profits offer donated goods and are operated primarily by volunteers. Proceeds from sales are funneled into good causes.
I’ve found my share of goodies at the consignment shops. But my most-treasured finds have come from the non-profits. At Community Projects last summer, I spent $4 on a little denim minidress that showed off my legs while disguising my “apple” physique; it looked great on its own, over jeans or leggings, and even with my bike shorts.
I also bought, still new in its box, a Whirley-pop, hand-cranked popcorn maker for high-fiber, low-calorie treats: $7 for a $25 item, and a beautiful, larger-than-life-size, extremely huggable Ditz Designs plush brown rabbit, brand-new with tags, for less than a third of its list price of $29.95.
If I’d needed dishes, crystal, flatware, jewelry or books and various items for my home, I could have purchased them for a pittance at Community Projects where room after room offers merchandise for every taste. It’s as easy as it is cheap to impulse-shop the Franklin Street store. Had I not been riding a bicycle on my latest visit, I might have taken home a new, in-the-box, “tabletop fountain” for just $6!
Founded by Napa women in 1941, not long before the U.S. entered the war that had gripped Europe in misery for years, Community Projects has raised more than $8 million for local causes—nearly all of it from the shop, which is run by volunteers and stocked by generous Napa Valley residents who donate everything from compact discs to furniture and fine china.
Proceeds benefit a panorama of local causes. The group’s 2007 fundings totaled $416, 232, with donations ranging from $1,000, for St. Helena’s Safe and Responsible Grad Night, to more than $45,000 in scholarships for county grads.
Public schools in Napa will receive much of Community Projects’ generosity: More than $110,000 will go to fund on-campus projects that aren’t covered by the school district’s budget.
For that reason, as well as the fact that Community Projects’ sprawling shop is stuffed with bargains, I find that shopping there is always rewarding. But I’ve had even better luck at the one-room boutique in the Northwood Shopping Center which is operated by the American Cancer Society.
That’s where I’ve snagged a beautifully fitted leather jacket for $25, a comfy pair of yoga pants for $8 and, find of finds, a “brand-new-second-hand” pair of zebra-printed cowhide flares for $20. I bought them when they were a full size too small for me; the day they fit perfectly made me feel like a rock star. A sensation that lasted until I dieted out of them a few months later.
Many items are new or nearly-new, including shoes, handbags and scarves. There’s also a selection of kitchenware and home décor.
Discovery Shops, as the place is called, has a paid staff of two backing up a team of volunteers who, in nearly every case, have had their lives touched by cancer. Napa volunteer, Pat Peterson has been with Discovery Shops for 14 years. She joined when her daughter died from lung cancer, and then persevered through her own battle with breast cancer.
Proceeds from Discovery Shops’ sales of clothing, accessories, jewelry and other merchandise benefit the American Cancer Society. The store has frequent “themed” sales on weekends, so it’s worth dropping by regularly. Community Projects has two major sales annually; a fashion event in October and a holiday-themed sale in November.
For my money, what there is of it, the best part of shopping at the non-profit thrifts is the threefold advantage of saving cash, helping others and having a worthy place to donate the stuff when I’m done with it.
715 Franklin Street
Open Monday – Saturday
9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Donations accepted Tuesday through Saturday until 4 p.m.
In the Northwood shopping center at 1342 Trancas Street
Accepts donations during store hours: Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.