2017-12-03 / Insight

Grace Episcopal Thrift Shop has served community for nearly 70 years

BY NICHOLAS PUGLIESE
810-452-2601 • npugliese@mihomepaper.com


The staff of the Grace Episcopal Church Community Thrift Shop is unpaid and donate their time to ensure the smooth operation of the store, like Episcopal Church Women president Darlene West, Thrift Store manager Barb Rifenbark and volunteer Sandy Chapman. The staff of the Grace Episcopal Church Community Thrift Shop is unpaid and donate their time to ensure the smooth operation of the store, like Episcopal Church Women president Darlene West, Thrift Store manager Barb Rifenbark and volunteer Sandy Chapman. LAPEER — The Grace Episcopal Church Community Thrift Shop has been around for a long time. Exactly how long, though, may be a matter of debate. “Nobody seems to know exactly when it started,” said Darlene West, president of the Episcopal Church Women, or ECW. “But we’re the best kept secret in Lapeer, it started sometime in the 1950s.”

Located inside a residential building at 221 N. Monroe St. next door to the Grace Episcopal Church and their distinctive red doors, the Community Thrift Shop has bounced around during its several decades of existence, first operating in the basement of the old Steven & Weston shoe store, which itself was housed in the building next to the PIX Theatre that has since burned down. After that, “sometime in the 60s,” the store spent some time in a house near the church. That house, too, has since been demolished. Following


Now in its third location in its over 60 years of life in the downtown Lapeer area, the Grace Church Community Thrift Shop currently calls 221 N. Monroe St. home. 
Photos by Nicholas Pugliese Now in its third location in its over 60 years of life in the downtown Lapeer area, the Grace Church Community Thrift Shop currently calls 221 N. Monroe St. home. Photos by Nicholas Pugliese Reverend Yung-Hsuan Chou’s retirement after 30 years as rector of Grace Episcopal Church in

1990, his former residence became the new home to the Thrift Shop, where it remains today.

While the store may not be well- known to the citizens of the Lapeer area at large, a significant contingent of shoppers pays the shop a visit each week. “It varies, but we have a lot of repeat customers, probably around 150 a week,” said Community Thrift Shop manager Barb Rifenbark. The store features clothing of all sizes and genders, coats, shoes, baby items, toys, housewares and various bric a brac. “The only thing we don’t take in is furniture, we just don’t have the room for it,” said Rifenbark.

The store is staffed by a half-dozen volunteers, and everything for sale is donated to the store by members of the church and the greater public. “People donate, many are from the church but we have others,” said Rifenbark.

Quality is important to Rifenbark and her staff of volunteers, and a significant amount of time is spent checking donations and sorting them for sale. “We’re really careful about what we give out, that it’s good quality,” said Rifenbark. The store receives so many items, in fact, that occasionally they in turn make donations to other organizations, like the Salvation Army.

“If we have an abundance of things, we’ll donate them,” she said. “You never know what we might have.” The money raised through sales at the thrift shop is kept in the community, said West. “The money is distributed between the Food Pantry or to church maintenance,” she said.

Rifenbark and the volunteers put on several events and special throughout the year in order to help the community get the items they need. At the end of each summer and each winter, usually in late August and March, respectively, the Community Thrift Shop holds “bag sales,” during which time, for the $3 purchase of a bag, shoppers can pick out up to five items, and if they fit into the bag, they’re sold. “If you can get five winter jackets into the bag, you’re getting them all for only three bucks, you can’t beat that,” said Rifenbark. Also, on the first Saturday each November, the Community Thrift Shop holds their annual Christmas Bazaar, a special holiday-themed sale. “I’ll save all the goodies that I think will be more bazaar-like stuff, and we bring it all to the church to sell,” said Rifenbark.

Despite the volunteer crew getting older, Rifenbark said that they’ll continue to be of service to the community of Lapeer for as long as they can. “We’ve been here for 50-some years and half of Lapeer doesn’t know we’re here,” said Rifenbark, whose mother was also manager of the Thrift Shop into her 80s. “I wish we could do more, but we do what we can do.”

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