Jeremy Ogul | Contributing Editor
Renovation is nearly complete on a new thrift boutique on Adams Avenue in Normal Heights.
When it opens early next month, the store will offer more than just high-quality used clothing and home décor. For the women who volunteer there, it will offer a rare opportunity to develop work experience in a safe and supportive environment.
The thrift store is a project of Home Start, a San Diego nonprofit organization that provides supportive services to families in need. Among those services is a residential shelter program for young homeless mothers, typically between the ages of 18 and 24.
CEO Laura Mustari describes the store as a “social enterprise” because it will focus on providing work experience to those women, many of whom struggle to find a job because they do not have the education or experience necessary to land even entry-level, minimum wage positions.
“They come to us with histories of abuse, trauma and neglect,” Mustari said. “We want to create a safe environment for them where they can really build their skills.”
The store will occupy approximately 1,500 square feet in a converted house at 3611 Adams Avenue, across the street from Vons. The building was most recently home to Curves, a women’s fitness studio. For 27 years before Curves moved in, the building housed Lou Curtiss’ Folk Arts Rare Records. Home Start acquired the property last February, including the two residential units in the rear of the property. Contractors have been renovating the buildings for the past six months.
One paid, full-time employee will manage volunteers at the store. This “trauma-informed” employee will gently coach volunteers on their skills in customer service, accounting, marketing and inventory management.
Holly Arnold, Home Start’s residential shelter manager, said the thrift boutique will provide “not just a handout, but a hand up” to the clients Home Start serves.
“Most of our residents are coming from families that are not healthy, sometimes abusive, very neglectful, and with that comes a lot of low self-esteem, lack of confidence and feeling like they’re the guilty party. They feel like they’re the one that made their child homeless,” Arnold said.
Working in the store with a team of peers toward a common goal will give those residents a chance to get out of survival mode and find a new sense of confidence and purpose, Arnold said.
“It will be a really good opportunity to see that they are accepted, that they have a value and can provide a service that’s important for others,” she said.
Even the store’s construction follows the theme of discovering a new purpose. When contractors demolished an old wooden fence surrounding the property, Mustari asked them to find a way to save it. Those old wooden planks now adorn ceiling beams and a pony wall in the shop. Beat up old garage doors are being repurposed into merchandise tables. A crumbling brick fireplace was saved and restored as a creative, welcoming element in the store. Decorative old metal grates from the residences were refinished and applied to a gate near the rear of the property.
Mustari calls it a boutique because the shop aims to carry higher-quality items in a smaller space than more well known stores such as Goodwill, which thrives on a high volume of sales.
Eventually, the store’s revenues may supplement Home Start’s budget, and the organization hopes to be able to hire the volunteers as employees so they can earn both experience and a paycheck while completing their education, Mustari said.
Home Start was able to purchase the property thanks to a planned gift from Margaret “Meg” Jacobs, who died of complications from breast cancer in 2012. Jacobs, whose family is well known locally for the Jacobs Family Foundation, was a social worker who worked at Home Start earlier in her career.
Additional support for the renovation came from a county Neighborhood Reinvestment Program Grant of $20,000. Students at San Diego State’s School of Art and Design contributed interior design ideas, such as tubular skylights. HomeAid San Diego and United Way of San Diego also provided support for the project.
Pending some final modifications and a review by city inspectors, the thrift store will begin accepting donations and selling items with a soft opening in early December. The group is planning a grand opening celebration in early 2015 that will feature local elected officials who supported the project.
To contact the store, call 619-564-8027 or visit home-start.org.
—Reach Jeremy Ogul at 619-961-1969 or firstname.lastname@example.org.