polo shirt collar Blacksburg clothing store looking for shoppers
BLACKSBURG A brown paper bag can hold a Harley Davidson T shirt, two pairs of jeans, two knit skirts, a tiny black cashmere sweater and an olive Harve Benard suit. Bean windbreaker. All this rings up for $4 at the Blacksburg Clothing Shoppe, where gently used apparel sells by the bag to folks who don’t mind hunting a bit for their treasures. Although New River Community Action’s shop only does business on Wednesday mornings, a small group of loyal patrons say the serendipitous finds are worth taking an hour or so off work. Others appreciate the fact that they can afford to outfit their family here rather than having to accept charity. Plus they can feel virtuous shopping here: the proceeds provide needy Blacksburg children with back to school clothes each fall. Trouble is, those loyal customers just aren’t numerous enough. Last year the Clothing Shoppe raised less than $3,000 only enough to provide 121 children with $25 vouchers, and that was with assistance from Blacksburg churches. “If we want to help children in our area and keep the Clothing Shoppe open, we must make a change,” said Carol Reid, one of three Community Action service workers who run the store. In March, the store doubled its prices: from $2 to $4 for a paper grocery bag and from $3 to $6 for a full sized garbage bag of customer selected clothes. But the shop seldom generates more than $10 an hour. “We’re the cheapest place in town,” Reid said. “We have people, even people on our staff, who have hard time shopping anywhere else after getting used to our prices. We just need more shoppers.” The shop maintains limited hours, Reid says, because that’s all Community Action employees can spare. Besides overseeing the sorting, sale and dispersal of donated clothing for the shop, Reid and her cohorts Carol Albert and Susan Walton work with clients who need tax help, fuel assistance, emergency funds, home weatherization and transportation. on Wednesdays just don’t meet the needs of many of the area’s working poor. Kenneth Carter, who works on Virginia Tech’s housekeeping staff, has been to the store once and would like to buy pants there. But he doesn’t have much time at lunch to eat, get to the store,
park and make his selections. “All I’ve got is 45 minutes. It might help if they had things separated out by size, but it all still takes time,” Carter said. Michele Moldenhauer, who works for Virginia Tech in visual design, has used her artist’s eye to discover some real finds at the Clothing Shoppe vintage coats, a mink stole, a quilt and some marvelous hats. “It’s an excellent, affordable source of business and casual clothes,” she said. “Shopping here kind of ruins youfor other stores, even Goodwill, because you have the potential for getting such great things with very little investment. It’s also a good place to recycle your clothes.” Shopping here is nothing like shopping at a retail store. Clothing Shoppe shelves are piled high with every color of the rainbow, and styles range from the 1930s to 2004. You never know what you’ll find. It could be a vintage nightgown or a denim jumpsuit perfect for working under a car. Or a pair of silver toed boots or a stack of undershirts or even a fringed flapper dress. One lucky patron discovered an Armani suit, Reid said. Although there’s a heavy loading of women’s clothing in single digit sizes, the shop carries an array of sizes for people of all ages; large sizes require more of a hunt. “This is a digging kind of shop. It takes patience,” Reid said. Some customers aren’t interested in clothes at all, but in textures and colors. One woman will buy odd garments for a quilt project and a rag rug at $4 a bag it beats the fabric outlet. Floyd County folk artist Annie Moon has been buying used clothing as material for her trademark dolls at the Clothing Shoppe for years. “If this place closed, I’d slit my wrists,” Moon said. “Well, maybe not, but it’d be hard to survive on my income without the Clothing Shoppe. I get 90 percent of my fabric here and all of my own clothes and shoes. It’s probably the cheapest place in five states. I think they’d do a lot better if they were open a few evenings or Saturdays. Maybe they could use volunteers. So many people I tell about this place really want to shop here, but can’t make it during the hours.” The Community Action workers get help sorting and stocking from an assortment of Virginia Tech service learning students and community volunteers. In its early years, the shop was staffed by church members, Albert said, but eventually Community Action was asked to manage the shop. The shop occupies the rear room of the Old Town Hall and is open year round on Wednesday mornings. Donations are accepted any time at the gaily painted drop boxes in the parking lot behind the building. For more information, call 382 6186.