Portland thrift shop supports a 'good cause'

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PORTLAND — The Good Cause Thrift Shop, on Forest Avenue near Congress Street, is where trendy meets reality.

The shop is a treasure trove of carefully-used items, ranging from clothing and dinnerware to books and vinyl records. Profits from their sale go to support financial aid for students of Catherine McAuley High School on Stevens Avenue, as well as to regional nonprofit groups.

“Whatever profits we make, they help keep tuition costs down and provide money for scholarships,” Good Cause Manager Anne Collins said Monday.

Founded nearly 20 years ago, the store is popular with city residents looking for low prices, and with hipsters looking for retro fashion.

“It’s very important for us to maintain low-cost clothing,” she said. “A lot of our customers live in the apartments above us and a lot of them are our friends. … But we serve two ends. We have customers who (are in) need and … the kids who come for vintage clothing.”

Katie Guzman, who manages the inventory and sorts all donated items at the store, said the staff sets a high standard for quality.

“If we wouldn’t wear it, use it, or put in our home, we won’t sell it,” she said, but noted that those decisions are not based on personal style.

And while the goal is to help those in need – in the tradition of the Catholic nuns who operate McAuley High – Collins said the store is a great place to browse.

“I want people to come in and have fun and enjoy our atmosphere,” she said. “I’m a thrifter myself. We would never want to take away that element of searching and finding that treasure.”

The shop, along with a satellite store in Standish, is operated by a crew of six paid employees and 25-30 volunteers. McAuley students, who are required to participate in community service, also volunteer periodically, Collins said.

Despite the small staff, the shop has survived and grown through the last two decades in an ever-changing downtown area.

The thrift shop moved from a Congress Street location, now home to Gorham Bike and Ski, about five years ago. The Standish store, originally designed to handle overflow merchandise, now is busy enough to stand on its own.

The store is also helping other groups serve their own missions.

Items that don’t meet the store’s standards are usually donated to Goodwill Industries, the Salvation Army, or Preble Street Resource Center. Good Cause also works with groups such as Preble Street to help them find needed items, Collins said.

All that requires a lot of donated merchandise, which is loaded through a single door into a storage room brimming with books, clothing and a collection of the unique and strange.

Despite the challenges, the work is worth it, Assistant Manager Chari Chalmers said.

“It’s a lot of work,” she said, but, “we all really believe in what we’re doing.”

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or wgraff@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.