Iqaluit thrift shop reels in bargain hunters
“More people are definitely using the store”
Linda Ham isn’t surprised when she arrives at Iqaluit’s Piviniit Thrift Store to find bags of donations left outside.
“We just never know what we’re going to be getting in,” said Ham about the volunteer-run thrift store located inside the soup kitchen building in downtown Iqaluit.
The Piviniit’s opening in November 2009 came after a year of planning, started by former judge Bev Browne, who got a group of people together for coffee to discuss whether a second-hand clothing store in Iqaluit could work, said Ham, who now chairs the non-profit Piviniit society.
Although the thrift store isn’t affiliated with the soup kitchen or the food bank, the three organizations have a good working relationship: you can even find clothing, free-for-the-taking, stacked on a shelf inside the soup kitchen, which provides weekday lunches and weekend dinners to hungry people in Iqaluit.
Inside Piviniit you can find hundreds of donated items, sorted, neatly hung up or folded, and priced for people to buy.
The front section of the store is organized by section — with winter clothing, women’s clothing, men’s clothing, shoes, hats, kid’s toys, and random household items such as kitchen ware and old cookbooks. There is also a section of craft materials, old fabric and sometimes sealskin.
In the back of the store, walls are lined with pink plastic bins full of neatly folded clothing, and boxes are prepared to go out to Baffin communities, some of 15 small boxes a week which are sent out with the members of the RCMP when they travel.
Piviniit’s goal: to help alleviate poverty by providing lower priced clothing, to re-circulate used items instead of throwing them into the landfill, and to teach job skills in a supportive place.
Since its officially opening in November 2009, the store — a non-profit organization — has also managed to save a bit of money from its $2,000 a month income.
That money will be given to organizations in Iqaluit at a volunteer appreciation event this month.
“We are finally able to give back some money to organizations in the city,” Ham said.
That’s a lot considering most items sell for about $10, she said.
Volunteers who work at the store can’t always identify items that come in.
But “a regular might come in and say, ‘oh, my grandmother had one of those and its used for plucking the pits of the cherries’ or something like that,” Ham said.
Or, someone might find something they’ve been yearning for.
People in Iqaluit have always donated a lot of stuff, Ham said.
In fact, they started making donations even before Piviniit opened.
Then, board members had to store everything, mostly used clothes, in sea cans.
There’s still “quite a big supply all the time.”
“We get donations constantly. Either people are leaving, or getting rid of stuff…sometimes we can barely keep ahead of the donations that come in,” Ham said.
Piviniit board members and more than 30 volunteers, who spend time working the cash register, decide on the prices.
Kids clothes cost about $1, with some items selling two for a $1 or three for a $1. Adult clothing is priced between $5 and $10.
Lately, Piviniit has become a popular place.
“I have been here opening the store up and there will be people actually waiting for the store to open,” Ham said.
“What we are finding is that as we become more well-known, more people are definitely using the store,” she added.
It’s mostly women who come in, usually mothers “looking for clothing and household things” for their families.
When someone does find something they really love, and for little money, Ham feels running the store is worth the effort.
“Every shift has moments like that, and you just feel really good,” she said.
Kids clothes, winter parkas and winter boots are always popular items at Piviniit, with much-coveted Canada Goose parkas especially good finds.
But the store does throw out a fair amount of donations, Ham said.
In the South, thrift chains actually throw out about 60 per cent of their donations.
“We do try to have good quality stuff on the floor,” she said.
Nearly all donations go out onto the floor, “so we’re saving all of that from going into the [Iqaluit] landfill.”
The Piviniit does accept donations, but Ham said it’s best if people stop by during when the store is open: Thursday and Friday from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Baby items that have been used aren’t encouraged due to safety regulations, unless the item is in really good shape.
And “if you’re donating something that’s really not in good shape, please throw it out,” Ham said.