A lot of unheralded work went into preparing the Thrift Store for Tuesday’s soft opening. It ranged from transporting items from the two former Thrift Store buildings in Pacific Avenue and sorting donations, to cleaning and fitting out the new premises in Jasper Street. Here, Major Ed Dean, from The Salvation Army Maple Creek, gives an idea of what life has been like over the last month for himself and his group of volunteers. He points out that a lot of hard work remains.
It took hundreds of volunteer hours during The Salvation Army’s busiest period of the year. It required long days that sometimes stretched from 8am to 8.30pm. It meant defying temperatures as low as -36 to turn up to work. It demanded unshakable determination to meet an ambitious deadline.
On Tuesday, however, all the effort proved worthwhile when the door of the new Thrift Store opened to let in the first customers, who voiced amazement at what they saw – a vast retailing space that some compared to Walmart.
All agreed Maple Creek could be proud of the new retailing option on its main street. The store boasts houseware items, furniture, clothing, books, toys, and behind the scenes is a large sorting area.
There are also fitting rooms for people to try on clothes.
Did Major Ed Dean ever doubt whether he could honour his commitment to a January 4 opening?
Without hesitating, he shakes his head.
“I had the goal all the way through,” he says. “I didn’t have any doubts.”
Much of his confidence, was based on the can-do attitude of his team leader, Denise Needham, who never lost faith.
“Denise said we will meet that goal. She has put in so much effort and is here most mornings by 8am. Sometimes she will have 12 things on her list for me to answer first thing in the morning.
“She’s not going home until 5pm or thereabouts and some nights it has been even later than that. I’ve come here to find there is still a group here at 8.30pm.”
Major Ed says there has been a hard core of about 10 regular volunteers, who have pitched in most days.
“There was a sorting crew that started before we ever began setting up. They got a lot of the clothing sorted and ready to go. We also had another team to sort out the furniture, and then a team for the jewellery. There has been a team as well to do the housewares.
“There have been many different pieces to this to help us do what we can do in our community. It’s worth remembering that the proceeds from the store stay in the community.”
Funds could be used help the food bank, a kids camp, or transporting somebody in need out of town.
Major Ed has been excited to witness the transformation of the building over the last four weeks.
“Walls have been painted, floors have been scrubbed, furniture has been set out, clothes are on the racks and priced. It has taken many, many people to come alongside us to make that happen, but we are very grateful for every hour that has been put in.“
As overseer of the operation, Major Ed has had to make quick decisions, often on the fly.
“It has been hard work,” he says. “Some people will bang their head on the wall and say ‘he’s been rough’. It’s not that I’m trying to be rough on anybody because I appreciate every hour of time. However, when you have got 15 people calling at the same time, it’s kind of hard to answer all those calls and still make the decisions. Somebody has got to make decisions. That’s the thing. I have to make decisions as we go along the way. We’ve had to make changes along the way.”
Major Ed says he had a rough initial idea of the layout.
“I walked in and envisioned what it was going to look like. So, then I gave a rough plan to one of our volunteers and said ‘this is going to go here, this is going to go there, that’s going to be here’. There were teams that worked on fixtures, teams that worked on pricing, there were teams that pulled the bags apart and saw what was in those bags of donated goods. There have been many teams.
“We have also hired tradespeople when they were required.”
Many mornings, says Major Ed, he has been in the building by 6am.
“It’s 8pm or 9pm before I’m done. I’m fried at the end of the day.
“Don’t forget, on top of all of this happening in the last month, we have also had our busy season of the year, our Christmas. All of that stuff goes on. It didn’t go away because we took on another project.
“In the next few weeks, we still have to empty out the old buildings. So that we are into one building, not three.
“There is plenty of work still to do. We will need ongoing volunteers every day, whether it be for washing glasses, pricing, hanging clothes, picking something up or taking garbage to the bin.”
A big advantage of the new building, says Major Ed, is the extra retail space and the parking lot.
“Big space though means bigger expense and more staff will likely need to come on stream. At this stage I’m not sure how many. We will evaluate it and see what it looks like.
“I have one part-time staff member at the moment. We will hire some other part-time staff to complement that.
“I will be here on staff as my office is now in this building. It will allow me to manage everything better.”
Major Ed says The Salvation Army has now signed a five-year lease with the owner of the building.
“It gives us stability, there are clauses in it that we can renew it for a longer term.”
He adds: “The Thrift Store is so important to Maple Creek. It has been in the community for over 20 years. If people can’t afford brand new items, here’s another alternative. That alternative means that they can buy something.”