Shop provides service to community in many ways

By Ronald MacArthur

Last Thursday was bag day and more than 45 customers were lined up outside the front door waiting for the Soroptimist Curiosity Shop in Seaford to open for the day. By the time the day ended, the store was just about cleaned out of merchandise as hundreds of happy shoppers left the second-hand shop with arms full of bags - two for $2. In the words of shop manager Eleanor Jamison, the Curiosity Shop has grown from a one-room shop to “big business” as it celebrates its first anniversary at its new location on Middleford Road. But it wasn’t always that way. The idea for the shop can be traced back to one dynamic, colorful Soroptimist member who had a passion for the shop that became a daily labor of love for her, Nellie G. Allen, for whom the new shop is named. In 1961 the shop was a one-person operation with Mrs. Allen collecting clothing and washing it herself. Today’s shop includes ample floor space plus areas for storage and has a staff of 12. Proceeds from the shop have doubled since the new building opened last year and the Soroptimist treasury is among the richest of all the organization’s in the area. The club donates tens of thousands of dollars back into the community supporting dozens of organizations each year - thanks to the second-hand shop started by Mrs. Allen. You might find it hard to believe but the shop has already met its budgeted income of $50,000 for the fiscal year (starting July 1, 2003) in six months. And most items in the shop sell for $1 to $3. The current manager has been involved with the day-to-day operation of the busy shop since she became a member of the club back in 1971 as a volunteer. She was named manager five years ago when the shop was still housed in the old Monaco store building at the west end of High Street in downtown Seaford. (The shop has moved five times over the past 43 years.) “I received all of my tutelage from Nellie Allen and the Allen family has been very supportive of the shop,” she said. “Whatever we have needed, they have provided.” The new shop was a “huge step” for the club, according to Dolores Slatcher, the club’s president during the construction and moving project. The cost of the building and renovation was around $650,000 according to Slatcher. “There was a significant concern that we couldn’t raise the money and have to borrow it, and then there was a concern that we couldn’t meet the costs to run the building once it was built,” she said. With a lot of hard work, the club was able to raise enough money to cover the cost of the building and renovations to enter the new shop debt free. Major donations came from Charles and Warren Allen (through the Delaware Community Foundation), the City of Seaford, and the Longwood Foundation. Members and the community also donated to make the dream of a new shop on Middleford Road a reality.
The actual project covered the terms of three presidents of the club. The idea of a new, expanded shop started when Linda Hollis was president, actual construction took place when Slatcher was president and the shop officially opened when Peggy Geisler was president. Shannon Sapna is the current president of the club. Jamison said that most people predicted that the shop would have to be shut down for two weeks at least to make the move last year. It was closed for three days (and one of those days was Sunday). Since the shop moved, the number of customers and the amount of donations has mushroomed, according to Jamison. “Last year we didn’t have a slow month,” she said. The shop has a little of everything - from household items to toys; from shoes to books - but the majority of the floor space is dedicated to clothes for men, women, teens, boys, girls, and infants. Jamison said that you might be surprised at some of the donations that find their way to the shop including designer clothing with the tags still on them. She said if it wasn’t for the dedication and hard work of the staff, the shop would not be able to function. “We have really good help and great support from the Soroptimist as well,” she said. “It’s not an easy job at all, but they do it in good faith.” Staff members have to sift through the mounds of donated clothes each day to keep a fresh stock available. At times, the shop is overwhelmed with donations. “But we have to take the bitter with the sweet,” Jamison said. She said that the chairwomen of the Soroptimist ways and means committee, Lorraine Miller and Mary East, are also an important part of the success of the shop. Shop hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursday, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday.

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