Clark University’s Thrift Store: New Model, Same Goals

Monica Sager, Scarlet Staff

The Clark Community Thrift Store, located at 930 Main St., is testing a new business model this year, while continuing to serve Clark and the Main South Community.

“It’s a student-run venture,” co-advisor Jenny Isler said, “so the students are completely in charge.”

Four students have taken on the role of “team leader.” Each represents a different area of operation: sales, retail, inventory, or operations.

“The team leaders are employees of Clark University,” Isler said. “They have very distinct job descriptions and responsibilities.”

The Community Thrift Store, which has been open for eight years, used to be staffed by paid student employees—including undergraduate and graduate students, work and non-work study, and volunteers. The students were hired based on skills and experience, and promoted contingent on merit.

Employees are now required to take Student Run Venture Management, or ENT 260, in order to be considered a Thrift Store employee.

“The intention was to have all team leaders and paid specialists take the class,” said Arthur Martin, professor of ENT 260. “What I have done is required that all students spend at least four hours a week with a venture as part of class participation.”

Other students in the class are working on new a new greeting card line for the copy center, inventory management systems, and a new business model for Local Roots, according to Martin.

These students are required to work four hours a week to receive the half credit.

“I’m going back and forth between the class and the team on how to incorporate what we’re learning,” Aheila Watson, who is one of the five employees of The Clark Community Thrift Store as well as the team leader of retail.

“That could be the model going forward,” Isler said. “We’re kind of experimenting with models at this point, so it’s a little bit in flux.”

Besides Alika Gillard, a graduate student who acts as the business manager for the store, volunteers with the team leaders, whose payment consists of course credit.

“It’s almost entirely volunteer-run, except for the team leaders,” Isler said. “That may be the model into the future because many, many Thrift Stores are volunteer run.”

Volunteers collect and sort donations daily. They also restock the store.

“The volunteers are honestly the people who keep the store alive and running,” Watson said. “Having volunteers who show up and are ready and willing to come in and help out is very heart-warming and amazing to me.”

Outside of regularly scheduled hours, volunteers also help with the Pop-Up Shops around campus.

The Thrift Store, as Isler made clear, is not a club but instead has a budget and must report to Clark’s Board of Advisors each semester.  

The Store serves both Clark students as well as the Main South community.

“40 percent of our total sales are from community members, not from Clark” Isler said. “It’s a community-facing location.”

“We get a lot of Clark students, but every day we have someone new from the community,” Watson said. “It’s never one or the other … I truly think that we’re in the middle.”

The 60 percent of customers who are Clark students, faculty, and staff are able to enjoy the store’s proximity.

“I like it,” Mary Cuthbert (’22) said. “I feel like you can find some really cool stuff.”

Clark’s Community Thrift Store is a non-profit and receives donations primarily from Clark students.

“There are two permanent donation bins on campus (outside of Goddard Library and the University Center) that are emptied I think three times a week,” Isler said. “The majority of donations come from, however, what’s called Clark Collections.”

Clark Collections takes place at the end of each school year.

“When students move out of the resident halls and houses, they leave an astonishing amount of stuff,” said Isler, who added that this past year’s drive weighed in at ten tons. “We’re able to sort and secure enough inventory to carry us through pretty much for the whole year.”

The Store contains racks of inexpensive and gently used clothing. A back room hosts college essentials, housewares, and furniture.

“We’re always on the lookout for things like men’s pants because men don’t seem to give up stuff,” Isler said. “We’re always on the lookout for things like coats … shoes and kitchen supplies because there’s not much of that being donated.”

Isler does acknowledge, however, that there are other Thrift Stores in the area where these items can be provided, but she doesn’t see that as an issue.

Clark’s Community Thrift Store has traded items with other organizations such as Abby’s House, Jeremiah’s Inn, and Dress for Success, according to Isler.

“The more of that community support and social service enterprise that we have available, the better,” Isler said. “I think when you’re looking at a social purpose enterprise, it’s not the same as a business enterprise. A social purpose enterprise exists to fill a gap that is not otherwise filled by government or by the free market. That gap here is affordable clothes and goods for your family … That gap is larger than one social service enterprise can fill.”

The Thrift Store is open Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday 12pm to 4pm and Sunday 10am to 2pm.