BERLIN – The story of the Church Mouse Thrift Shop is one of transition, both for the shops customers and the shop itself. The current business grew out of a small warehouse where church members kept donated clothes and household items to be given to families who suffered from fire or some other loss or extreme need. Volunteers took turns keeping track of the inventory and eventually the church members decided to open the warehouse to the public as a way of raising funds for their other charities.
When the congregants decided to open the Church Mouse Thrift Shop downtown, it was both as a vehicle to serve the public as well as a way to raise more money to support the church’s other good works. Current coordinator Helen Wiley, said that making sure they don’t let the funds sit idle is one of the most important parts of her position. But before they can donate the funds to good causes they must be raised and that requires they run the shop as a proper retail business.
To that end Wiley and the more than 15 volunteers who run the shop day in and day out each week are as committed to quality and customer service as they would be if their paychecks depended on it, possibly more so given that the business’ success is critical to other people.
“We try to be very picky,” Wiley said. “We have a Goodwill pick up at least once per week.”
The Church Mouse Thrift Shop has a pretty high standard for their merchandise so while many of the donations they receive are usable and in good condition, Wiley said they only stock those donations that are both in demand and in superior condition. The idea is to have a reputation not only for using the profits for good works, but also for being a place worth visiting and visiting regularly to see what’s new.
“If it sits to long we donate it to Goodwill,” Wiley said.
Charities generally are dependent on others’ kindness and, specifically, whether the charity in question is in line with the kind of works the donor intends. The Church Mouse Thrift Shop has to earn beyond that measure, or rather, outside of it. They donate to so many different charities, from Diakonia to the Heifer Project, that the money’s destination is almost secondary; many if not most of the recipients are well-known local or international charitable causes. What is important is that their customers, and they have a pretty strong group of regular customers, are satisfied with the product.
One of the other ways the Church Mouse Boutique reached out to the wider community was by joining the Berlin Chamber of Commerce. Since they’re an all volunteer store a willingness to help is more important to then than a lot of business experience. Wiley said their membership has allowed the shop to participate not only in the networking mixers but more importantly in the kinds of seminars the help them improve their understanding of effective retailing.
Wiley said they are always excepting donations. Anyone interested in arranging to bring items in should call her home 410-208-2818.