Tri-City thrift store shoppers can check out Kennewick’s newest shop, Tri-Cities Autism Thrift.
The new store provides job skills training opportunities for those with autism and other cognitive disabilities.
“I had been praying a long time for there to be a place for my 24-year-old daughter — who has high-functioning autism — to learn job skills,” said owner Laura Krahn. “Everything just fell into place. We are kind of a hub for resources; other nonprofits call us for information.”
Operating under the philosophy of “work, learn, grow,” Autism Thrift is seeking sponsors for economically disadvantaged perspective clients, which would enable them to come in for training two hours daily for 10 days.
[blockquote quote="We provide a supportive, positive and encouraging atmosphere." source="Laura Krahn, owner of Tri-Cities Autism Thrift Store" align="right" max_width="300px"]
“We have workers who have made great strides in just two weeks,” Krahn said.
Over the years, a number of other charity thrift stores have opened throughout Tri-Cities, which collectively benefit a number of local and regional causes, and some, like Autism Thrift, providing job training opportunities.
“The benefits are threefold,” stated Chad Leinback, store manager of New Beginnings Thrift Store in Richland, which has been in business since 2007. “Number one, we provide opportunities to employ members of the community. … Number two, the opportunity to support the organizations … and number three, I feel we are really able to give people the opportunity to get things they otherwise wouldn’t be able to.”
Tri-Cities charity thrift stores also share common practices of accepting donations on-site and being run primarily by part-time volunteers, who are in turn led by a handful of paid managers.
“There is a big need,” said Tanya Martin, store manager of the Seattle Children’s Hospital Bargain Boutique in Kennewick, which opened last June. “In 2016, there was over $3 million dollars worth of uncompensated care in Benton, Franklin counties alone.”
All proceeds from the store’s sales benefit the uncompensated care of patients being treated at Seattle Children’s Hospitals.
At Autism Thrift, workers pay a $5 per hour facility use fee and the client must bring their own job coach, which can be a parent or caregiver.
Specialized work stations and posters directing clients allow them to work at their own pace.
Autism Thrift works with the The Arc of Washington and state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation to accommodate the needs of clients.
“We provide a supportive, positive and encouraging atmosphere,” Krahn said.
After two weeks, successful clients receive a certificate of achievement and recommendation to future employers.
Krahn said she hopes to achieve full nonprofit status by January. Autism Thrift accepts donations at its back door during regular business hours and provides tax-deductible receipts, but Krahn said customers will need to contact the shop to obtain their nonprofit ID number for this year’s tax return.
Tri-Cities Autism Thrift is in a space formerly occupied more than three years ago by neighboring business, Color Tile.
It is in the same shopping center where Value Village (now Planet Fitness) used to be. An international thrift chain, which benefits charitable organizations such as The Arc of Washington, Value Village closed in March 2016 as a result of “local marketplace pressures,” according to Value Village spokeswoman Sara Gaugl.
Goodwill Industries of the Columbia has been in the area since 1969 and operates four retail stores throughout Tri-Cities and one outlet store in Pasco, with its regional headquarters in Kennewick.
Another big player in charity thrift stores is St. Vincent de Paul, which has been in the Tri-Cities since 1960, with one retail store in Kennewick. Both companies also provide community outreach.
Many of the area’s charity thrift stores operate as nonprofits, though some, such as New Beginnings, make a regular financial donation to a charity of choice based on its sales.
Leinback said New Beginnings partners with You Medical, formerly called the Tri-Cities Pregnancy Network, as well as local domestic violence service offices and area churches to provide vouchers for items in their store.
“We at one point had many organizations we were supporting, but felt we could really give more resources if we limited it to just the two we currently support,” Leinback said.
Greta Dority, store manager at The Chaplaincy’s Repeat Boutique in downtown Kennewick, reported many donors like supporting smaller thrift stores and their charities.
“We share with other nonprofit organizations as well,” Dority said. “The Veterans Opportunity Center, the (Union Gospel) Mission, the new Autism Thrift Store … if we receive more than we can use and accept, then we share with other people; we don’t just throw it away. We also help out homeless people who stop by.”
Dority, Leinback and Martin all agreed that the heart of their stores is their volunteer base.
“We’re always seeking new volunteers,” Dority said.
Self-promotion and raising awareness about their stores and causes continues to be a challenge. In addition to rotating tag sales and other specials on overstocked merchandise, they try different strategies to lure in customers.
“We don’t do many special events, but based on our low prices and good-quality items, we figure people will be attracted to that and are just going to come in and shop,” Leinback said.
Martin said Seattle Children’s Bargain Boutique focuses on maintaining a “beautifully decorated, boutique atmosphere.”
“We try to host at least one in-store event per month,” she said. Recently, the shop held a Sip & Shop event, partnering with Purple Star Winery to provide an after-hour RSVP-only wine tasting and shopping event.
“It was a lot of fun,” Martin said.
Two times a year, the Bargain Boutique holds a designer sale event where high-end clothing, purses and jewelry put aside from donations are brought out exclusively for the sale.
“Why would anyone pay full price when they can help the kids?” Martin said. The shop’s next event will be a Black Friday sale.
Dority attributed a lot of the success of Chaplaincy’s Repeat Boutique to its central location in downtown Kennewick. “The whole downtown area is so supportive of us,” she said.
Dority said the store met its first yearly sales goal in five and a half months. “It’s been such a blessing to be here. It’s been great; we’re all just thrilled. We knew it was going to be good, but had no idea.”
The Repeat Boutique recently played host to an open house to kick off the holiday season, and will be participating in the annual Girls Night Out event Dec. 5-7.
The Chaplaincy Repeat Boutique and New Beginnings also hinted at future developments and expansions.
Here’s a list of other Tri-City charity thrift stores accepting donations and the organizations they benefit.
Supporting: Safe Harbor Crisis Nursery and Mirror Ministries
Address: 1420 Jadwin Ave., Richland
Supporting: Chaplaincy Health Hospice Care
Address: 22 W. Kennewick Ave., Kennewick
Supporting: Heartlinks Hospice Pediatric Palliative Care Program
Address: 612 Fifth St., Prosser
Supporting: You Medical and Domestic Violence Services
Address: 1016 Lee Blvd., Richland
Supporting: Safe Harbor Crisis Nursery & Family Support Center
Address: 408 N Fruitland St., Kennewick
Supporting: Seattle Children’s Hospital
Address: 2810 W. Kennewick Ave., Kennewick
Supporting: Food, clothing, and emergency support to those in need
Address: 120 N. Morain St., Kennewick
Supporting: Recovery services to young people who struggle with life-controlling problems
Address: 1120 W. Sylvester St., Pasco
Supporting: Job training and organizations supporting the intellectually disabled
Address: 731 N. Columbia Center Blvd., Suite 114, Kennewick
Supporting: Sale of donated furniture, appliances, accessories, and home improvement materials fund outreach programs
Address: 309 Wellsian Way, Richland
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