Local thrift shop shares the story behind their charity-driven second-hand shop.
STORY | YASMINE MAGGIO
PHOTOS | CHELSEA GLOWACKI
Hipsters and thrifters of Harrisonburg have a new treasure trove to discover. Hidden amid the valley, a serene atmosphere with smiling volunteers encompasses a thrift store filled with donated books, electronics and other household items. When it comes to the clothes, they may be tried, but they’re always true.
Started in 2005, Tried & True Thrift Shop is a non-profit store that benefits both the Global Food Crisis Fund of the Church of the Brethren and the Mennonite Church’s HIV/AIDS Fund. Husband and wife Ken and Deb Layman are the managers of the business, which operates solely on donations.
While the Laymans had some prior experience working with bigger thrift shops, they set out to start from scratch with Tried & True and create something with a small business feel.
“As you get bigger you end up being a supervisor in meetings and dealing with all of the problems,” Deb says. “When you’re working with hundreds of volunteers, there’s just a lot of personality mixes. … Our personalities lend themselves more to working with a few people instead of oversight of something huge.”
Deb and Ken’s business thrives on organization. With an almost constant flow of donations coming in, volunteers work to sort the items, inspect them and price them at a reasonable fee. Clothing is categorized so that it’s easy to switch over from season to season. An array of clothing fills racks that are arranged by color, adding an aesthetically pleasing look to the store’s environment. Some old, some new, each item holds some character to it, with a few gems hidden among the others.
Goods are sold at full price for three weeks, then go for half price the fourth week. Many of the items are $10 or less. Products that don’t sell after four weeks are then sent to Goodwill or the Blue Ridge Hospice Thrift Shop.
“The lifeblood of the shop is the donor,” Deb says. “If they don’t give us good things, we don’t have good things to sell.”
Although Tried & True’s store space doubled in size last November, the Laymans pride their business on providing a more intimate setting for customers.
“We kind of like the personal, small shop feel, instead of just being a megastore,” Ken says. “You never know who’s going to come in. You meet all kinds of different people.”
From millennials and JMU students to more elderly shoppers, Tried & True sees many different customers.
“Our classic customer is a woman in her 50s to 70s,” Deb says. “She shops for her grandchildren and herself. She has time and she has money.”
Volunteer Ruth Emswiler has been with Tried & True on and off since its beginning. Her daughter, Jan Emswiler, spent years doing service work with HIV and AIDS in Tanzania through the Mennonite Central Committee, inspiring Deb to donate part of the store’s proceeds to the HIV/AIDS Fund.
Jan’s passion for service is a trait that she shares with her mother and is common among both the owners and volunteers of Tried & True.
“I don’t think everybody thinks they could give something back, but I don’t think everyone knows the joy of it,” Ruth says. “It’s not really what you do, it’s why you do it and what you get from doing it.”
On the surface it may just be a thrift store, but to those who work at Tried & True, it’s so much more.
“My favorite part is when a customer comes up, leans over the counter and says, ‘This is my favorite store, I find the best things here. I always leave here feeling better than when I came in,’” Deb says. “It just makes you feel so glad to be doing this.”