Thrift store survives early growing pains

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 21, 2004

By SUE ELLEN ROSS – Staff Reporter

LAPLACE – When the St. Joan of Arc Thrift Shop began its mission to assist residents with much-needed clothing, their intention fell somewhat short.

Parish member Juliette Maquar was coordinating the clothing distribution out of her home. She needed more space, so fellow-parishioner Rita Milioto offered her garage.

The two ladies coordinated deliveries of the clothing items to families in need. There was one problem, though. ‘”We heard from word-of-mouth that these families were not using all of the clothes,” said Maquar. “Since they didn’t have a chance to try them on, many things didn’t fit.”

To solve that problem, the volunteer ladies (there were about five of them at this time) went to the church to talk to then-Monsignor. Peter Bergeron. They asked for space to continue their thrift shop, and he obliged.

“We were given a little hut located behind the church,” said Delphine Flynn, one of the early volunteers. “There was no floor, heat or bathrooms,” she laughed. But the volunteer group was happy to have the space and they made do, she added.

After the property was sold, the ladies moved their shop to a home located behind Jacob’s Store on Fifth St. They rented this small house for a few years.

Then, when the church purchased property further down Fifth Street, there was room available on the premises for construction of a separate building to house a new thrift.

Construction costs were handled by the thrift store ladies. “We paid for our (current) building with money from our proceeds,” said Maquar. “Proceeds from the store went to charities and the church, and we were also able to save for the new building.”

The St. Joan of Arc Thrift Shop will celebrate 34 years in business on May 9. Twenty-four of those years have been in their current building, located behind the church convent on Fir Street.

During Hurricane Andrew, part of this building was destroyed, and when it was repaired, it was also enlarged.

The 3,000-sq-ft. thrift store they are now enjoying houses a sorting/preparation area, storage, and a large selling room. Items for sale range from household decorations to school uniforms. “We have it all,” said Flynn. “And people really like our reasonable prices.”

Although the store is only opened half days on Mondays and Fridays, they see quite a bit of activity.

“I really enjoy coming here,” said long-time customer Alice Tassin. “They have a lot of nice things.”

On a recent visit, shopper Angela Sampson brought along her daughters, Darichelle, 11; Darilynn, 9; and niece, Nadia James, 2. Little Nadia had the biggest smile on her face when they left – her aunt had just bought her a colorful tricycle, her first one.

Sixty-five ladies currently volunteer in the thrift shop. They sort, fold, store and display items to be sold. They also man the cash register as well as keep lively conversation going with the customers.

Although there is a set schedule for the ladies volunteer hours, there is no set job description for each area of operations. “Everyone does what they want to do,” said Flynn. “If someone goes to a group that already has enough ladies, they find another group. It all works out. We are like one big family.”

With no set job assignments, you would think there would be much confusion. Not so with the these ladies. “We have great teamwork,” said Flynn.

Indeed, many of the current 65 volunteers have been with Maquar and Flynn since the early stages of the thrift store’s operation.

And, as in any store worth its salt, this store continues to offer new merchandise. “Every three or four months, we clear out the selling room,” said Maquar.

They donate these items to people and places in the community that are in need. This allows the ladies to sort through new donations, which come from both St. Joan of Arc parishioners and non-parishioners alike.

Both Maquar and Flynn believe the success of their 34-year-old business venture is due to the dedication of its volunteers.

The two coordinators say they can not take all the credit. “This is a big teamwork effort,” said Maquar. “The volunteers have an opportunity to socialize with each other while still doing a professional job of running the thrift shop.”

That certainly sounds like a recipe for continued success for this “business.”