The words "Thrift Shop" are all one can see from the road. They are painted in white block letters on the fascia of a store at the east end of an inconspicuous little strip center in Gulfport. In the shop there are clothes and hats, shoes and knickknacks, puzzles and jewelry. And, volunteers selling all of it. The 30 people who take turns volunteering at the store are members of St. Vincent's Episcopal Church on Ninth Avenue N in St. Petersburg. The church and its programs reap the profits they sow. Joan Rucksdashel, 70, of St. Petersburg has managed the store at 5124 Gulfport Blvd. S for four years. She recently stopped sorting and pricing and stocking long enough to talk to us about the shop and the rewards of volunteering there. It's open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. "We're open six days a week because . . . we're in church on Sundays, you know," she said with an implied wink. Patti Ewald, Times staff writer
1 What's the most unusual item you've ever had donated?
Before answering, she glanced for inspiration toward that day's volunteers, Annie Ellis, 67, of Gulfport and Mary Jones, 85, of St. Petersburg.
Mystery items, they all agreed. A donation no one can identify. Most recently, it was a pronged gizmo emblazoned with the words Bombay Sapphire.
Whatever it was — they speculate it was either an olive fork or a martini glass holder — they sold it.
Perhaps the most valuable item ever donated was an original oil painting by a Haitian artist of people going to church at night. It sold for $1,200.
2 And the biggest seller?
Clothes, by far. Especially on Thursdays when all clothes are half price, including the biggest seller of them all, T-shirts (normally 50 cents, 25 cents on Thursdays). Half-price clothes day is a thrifty take on a proven sales strategy: Bring people in for a bargain and they'll buy other stuff. On Thursdays, the store takes in four times its normal daily receipts. (Donated items may be dropped off during business hours; Gulfport residents may call the shop at (727) 321-7215 and someone will pick up the items.)
3 What's the most requested item you don't have?
A lot of people come in looking for medical equipment and must be sent elsewhere. Once in a while, the store receives a wheelchair or a portable toilet, but not very often. Meanwhile, the 5 percent of items that don't sell (even after markdowns) are re-donated to Goodwill or other places.
4 Who volunteers?
They are all older people (except one high school girl), but that's just fine with the volunteers. Younger people are too difficult to nail down, Rucksdashel said, as they have too many other things to do.
5 What's the best thing about volunteering?
The shop has become a neighborhood gathering place. Rucksdashel said she has become friends with a lot of customers, especially the 100 or so regulars. Some come in every single day, ostensibly to see what's new but likely just to visit. Volunteers even went to the recent funeral of one of their regular customers; that's how much like family they become.
"I find it very rewarding," she said.