I was given an empty building – with a lot of potential for a thrift store concept. It already had fresh paint, clean floors, and empty spaces. I had already scouted out the fixtures I wanted to buy or had been stock piling ones I got for free on Craigslist.

Then came the people. As soon as the board voted, “Yes, we want a thrift store,” I hired an assistant manager. I had been researching, writing, interviewing and collaborating with myself for six months.

I had met a young woman named Richelle, who was a cousin of a Maggie’s Place employee. Richelle had lived in different states, knew about social enterprises, was excited about them and seemed to have a lot of energy. She also had just moved back to Phoenix and didn’t have much going on. To me, this was the perfect equation equaling to offering her a job! Richelle said yes. I think both of us had no idea what we were getting into, but I pretended I knew and she pretended to knew too. This worked well as we created systems, the website, and procedures, set up shop and prepared for the store to open. From the day the board said “yes” to the opening of Maggie’s Thrift, I had given ourselves six weeks to open. I started holding onto all the donations we used to give to other charities that re-sold them, and put the word out that we were opening. There was no turning back now!

The first six months were good at Thrift. We peaked interest, we experimented with program structures and we built a clientele. We started to make money quickly. We didn’t have a ton of items for sale when we opened, but that first six months really laid the groundwork for Thrift. We had a HUGE Black Friday sale that was a record breaking day, and still is. We sold stuff for dirt cheap and we were only open for five hours. That day brought in so much money it took over a year to hit that number again.

When Richelle decided to move on, it was good. We had only talked about a six month commitment to begin with, but what wasn’t good was trying to hire someone else! I had several great applicants that I was able to narrow down to two; both of whom turned down the position due to various reasons. I mean, you have to WANT to work in a thrift store, it’s not an easy job. So after the top two candidates withdrew, I sought out the runners-up, who seemed to disappear. Yikes!

Just as I was in between Hail Mary’s and not so many deep breaths, Mallory applied. I read her resume and knew she was a solid person, and an answer to my prayers. Mallory brought so much to the Job Program and to Thrift. She was able to help launch goals and present the Job Program in such a way that I felt really proud of what we were offering. When you are knee deep in clothing and other donations to sort, it can be hard to remember what is going on outside of that. Mallory was a quiet but strong presence who kept her eye, and mine, on the ball. She was such a hard worker and she built relationships with many of our customers. We saw a rise in applicants as Mallory spent her six months at Thrift; we finally started to get past the new phase and get into routines. She had a lot of resources, and patience in training and volunteer experience that aided us greatly. Mallory was only able to stay for six months before getting a job offer that she really wanted. It was sad to see her go, but she still came into the store to say hi.

However, when she quit, I had a mild panic attack because I remember not too long before how difficult it was to get good applicants so quickly. I immediately remembered a spunky talkative young girl that had come in 6-8 months prior and talked to me. I had told her to call me when she came back and check on a job, which she did a month prior to Mallory leaving but I didn’t have anything at the time. So I called her.

Cassie was a thrift intern in Michigan while she attended a bible college. She was moving back to Phoenix in the summer, which we were almost at the end of. I calmed down, set a plan to call her and went back to the tasks of the day. We posted the job and got several really great inquiries and resumes. It was difficult because there were three top candidates, including Cassie, and I had no way to choose one over another. Cassie was my little brother’s age, which made me wonder if I could work with my brother, but she loved thrifting and working with people of all kinds. She had tons of energy and wanted to go above and beyond every minute that she could. When I mentioned pay, she waved her hand at me – she didn’t care. Hiring Cassie was an easy decision and felt right in my gut. It was really busy when she started; we had six new job applicants and I just had to throw her in hoping her prior thrift experience would do the rest. It did and Cassie stayed a year at Maggie’s Thrift, while going to school full time.

Cassie helped with difficult customers, motivated moms, created better volunteer and program forms, and more. She was the perfect assistant I needed to get through two long summers! Cassie brought along many friends who wanted to volunteer and support Maggie’s Place. We even hired one of her friends, Brenna, to help out with store operations later on.

Moving on to Jamie! Jamie lived at Maggie’s Place with the moms for 1.5 years. She was there when I needed to find someone quickly, the part of managing that stresses me out. Jamie was the easiest transition because she had helped out at Maggie’s Thrift before, she had volunteer experience, knew how to work with our moms, loved thrifting, and was patient and hard working. Jamie was a wonderful support system and she was the perfect addition to Maggie’s thrift. Jamie taught me how to smile and joyfully celebrate each person, even in the midst of our donations and chaos.

When Jamie decided to go back to school for her masters and scale back on work, I knew that I couldn’t go through another assistant manager – by that time Maggie’s Thrift was busy! We needed people sorting donations all the time, we needed people pricing all the time, we needed someone at the register, we needed someone organizing the floor, and then we needed customer support on top of that! That didn’t even include the administrative tasks and training other individuals. I resigned for many reasons but ultimately felt that it was a good time to pass the store on.

I had hired Valerie who lived in The Magdalene House for over a year. Then Valerie moved on to our transitional apartments.  Valerie worked part time in a kitchen and needed additional work, so she joined our unpaid Job Program. Valerie graduated our Job Program and stayed at Maggie’s Thrift after, just helping out. When I was able to, I hired Valerie part time, which worked out perfectly for everyone. When I decided to leave on top of Jamie also leaving, I knew that moving Valerie to a full time Assistant Manager position was a no brainer!

The rest of the search for a manager replacement for myself happened quickly and efficiently!

Gwen came out of nowhere – literally. She was from North Dakota, where my husband happens to be from. Gwen had hard work written all over her and wanted to run Maggie’s Thrift. Her years of retail experience and managing others came in very handy too, making my transition out of Thrift as easy as it could be.

When I look back on my time building Maggie’s Thrift, there are so many stories that come to mind but cannot possibly type out here – you’d get bored. But the faces of Thrift flash in my mind, all the wonderful people that have really put a lot into that little bustling shop.

Shout out to other employees: David, Victor, Mike, Mike K. Lee, Greg, Steven, Brenna, Sarah K, and ALL volunteers!

By Sarah Morrison, Staff Member at The Fiat House

building thrift