Thrift Shop looking for donated treasures, not discarded trash |

Thrift Shop looking for donated treasures, not discarded trash

Naomi Havlen
Nancy Gensch, left, and Karen Ryman, volunteers for the nonprofit Thrift Shop, sort through clothing left behind the store. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.

The women who volunteer at Aspen’s Thrift Shop are heaped with stuff – literally.Everything under the sun seems to land in the alley behind their shop on Hopkins Avenue – bags of clothing, appliances, shoes, toys, books and furniture.This is nothing new for them – it’s actually how the Thrift Shop managed to break a record by granting $270,000 to local nonprofits last year.

But here’s the problem: As much as they depend on community donations for their generous gifts each year, some items that are dumped into their alley are more trash than treasure. And while the shop cannot sell these threadbare or broken items, the occasional group of treasure seekers enjoys pawing through the mounds of goods in the alley, creating quite a mess for volunteers.”What happens is people have their yard sales on the weekend, and whatever stuff doesn’t sell they bring and leave on Sunday afternoon,” said Sherri Draper, a volunteer at the shop. “We’re not open on Sunday, so sometimes people go through the things in our alley, like ripping open bags of clothes. And we’ve had a rainy spring and summer, and sometimes have to throw away so many clothes that get wet.”Aspen’s Thrift Shop, since it first opened its doors in 1949, has had a casual relationship with the community, without many hard and fast rules. Locals routinely clean out their closets and garages and donate the spoils to the shop, and the shop in turn sorts all of the wares. The best goods are kept to sell locally, and the rest of the items are taken by volunteers to the Salvation Army in Grand Junction, or even to Tuba City, Ariz., to be distributed at American Indian reservations.Around 80 volunteers operate the store – all happen to be women. And on the first Monday of each month they meet with a roster of grant requests to fill, like from the Aspen Choral Society or Columbine Home Health Care.

Volunteers are thrilled with copious community donations. But since these women spend hours each day sorting through heaps of castoffs, they are frustrated when large or broken items show up in their alley and need to be carted away.”People bring us refrigerators, because they don’t want to pay money to get the Freon taken out of them – we have to pay $150 to get rid of the fridge,” Draper said. “We don’t take large appliances or mattresses or auto parts like dead batteries and tires.”After a recent weekend, volunteers took photos of a refrigerator and several mattresses stacked in the alley right next to a sign that said the shop doesn’t accept large appliances or mattresses.”We can use clothing that is clean and not torn, and we like to get clothing in season because we have no winter clothes,” Draper said. “We like small household appliances that are in working order, and we take in-season sporting equipment, artwork and toys.”

“No one wants to fill the landfills up, but sometimes something is just finished, and we have to throw it away,” Draper said.On the other hand, knowing she volunteers for an organization that recycles clothing and housewares is a good feeling – she just hopes people use some discretion before using the Thrift Shop’s alley as a dumping ground.”We’re happy to have the space we have in Aspen, but we’d like a little more awareness in the community,” she said. “This is a community effort, and if people could bring us stuff when we’re open, the process would be so much better.”Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is