Aspen Thrift Shop sets sights on reopening in April

Yearlong pandemic closure left shop frozen in time

Two women look at the Aspen Thrift Shop’s notice of closure due to the coronavirus on Thursday, March 12, 2020. Nearly a year later, the shop's volunteers have their eye on a late-April 2021 reopening.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Aspen last March, the Aspen Thrift Shop “froze in time,” said board member and volunteer Shareen Sarick.

Clothes from last year still hang on the racks, almost as they were 12 months ago; without income from sales, the nonprofit organization’s grant program has been dormant for just as long.

Now, for the first time in nearly a year, the shop is (almost) ready to welcome donations and shoppers inside again. Volunteers have their eye on a likely reopening just one month away, in the third week of April, Sarick said.

“I have filled out that business opening form so many times,” Sarick said. “We (were) hoping to open when school resumed in August but we couldn’t be, then we tried in the fall, then we wanted to again in the winter, and various stumbling blocks got in our way — there were all kinds of parameters, and something each time got in our way and we couldn’t reopen, but now I’m very hopeful.”

An official opening date likely will be announced soon, said board member and longtime volunteer Ellen Walbert, who helps manage public relations for the shop. The Aspen Thrift Shop board already has a date in mind, but some are hesitant to put it on the community calendar just yet given the uncertainty that lies ahead and a concern that announcing the date too soon could lead to an overwhelming inundation of donations on day one of operations, according to Walbert and Sarick.

The board is currently surveying volunteers to see who is comfortable returning to work; limited staffing could impact operations hours.

But when the time comes, shoppers will notice a few changes to the store: new flooring, new dressing rooms, a new cashier station, and new COVID-19 safety protocols.

“We’ve got all the five commitments ready to roll because we kept thinking we were going to reopen,” Sarick said.

The shop installed two air filtration systems and a carbon dioxide monitor to keep an eye on air quality and limit capacity; as always, the shop asks that donations be cleaned before they’re dropped off.

“People are just so anxious to get in the doors and there’s just so many unknowns,” Walbert said. “I have more unknown answers than answers at this point, but we are planning to open, and hopefully it will go just fine.”

The volunteer-run organization is just as eager to reopen, especially because the return of sales will help revive the shop’s charitable efforts to distribute upward of $600,000 in grants to nonprofits and $75,000 in scholarships for valley students each year.

The shop was able to continue the scholarship program through a fundraising campaign, but the suspension of its wide-reaching grant program has come as a loss to both the shop and to more than 100 nonprofits that have benefited from the funding. Almost all of the funds raised in the shop go toward those efforts; staff are volunteers, and the organization owns the building that houses the shop.

“It’s really been painful,” Walbert said. “That’s why we exist — our mission is to grant all our nonprofits in the valley and that’s what we do, and so that came to a speeding halt last March 12.”

Giving has come on a much smaller scale this year, mostly in the form of clothing and home goods donations to a few locals in need, Walbert said.

Though it will take some time to adjust the grant process to align with available funds and meet the current needs of the community, “I think we will be back at it as soon as we possibly can,” Walbert said.

In the meantime, Walbert emphasized patience for those jonesing to reconnect with the shop.

“Just be patient with us,” she said. “Just be patient, because it is going to take us awhile to get back to where we were.”

That applies to donations, too: A year’s worth of pent-up items in the “donate” pile in locals’ homes won’t make for an easy return to accepting items, and the reopening team is still working through the logistics of managing that demand.

“We’ll find our groove and we’ll be back on track — it’s just going to be an adventure through the first day through maybe the first month or two, us being patient with ourselves and our community being patient with us as well,” Sarick said.

“We the Thrift Shop ladies really miss the community and we look forward to welcoming them back, and we look forward to being together again. … We look forward to having our doors open and welcoming everyone,” Sarick said. “I think the message of patience and kindness and compassion couldn’t be emphasized enough.”

“If you wouldn’t give it to a friend, don’t give it to us.”

With already well-stocked shelves from last year, volunteers will keep to a firm policy on what donations they can and cannot accept.

“We are going to be limited and we’re going to have to be picky. … If you wouldn’t give it to a friend, don’t give it to us,” Sarick said.

The shop will have limited resources to evaluate donations, especially if some volunteers aren’t comfortable returning just yet; dropping off bags of stained, damaged clothes or leaving behind unsellable appliances could add an additional burden to an already busy team.

“Please be mindful when packing up your bags for the thrift shop that we’re going to be going through volumes that we’ve never seen before,” Sarick said.

The Aspen Thrift Shop will accept clean, undamaged clothing, footwear, outdoor gear, sporting equipment, household goods, kitchen items, small working appliances, linens, toys and luggage.

The shop will not accept helmets, car seats, cribs, computers, printers, faxes, keyboards, mice, analog televisions, mattresses, pillows, window blinds, large appliances (like refrigerators and ovens), hazardous material, paint or tires.


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