Skip to content

Steadfast dedication drives local secondhand store

April 11, 2011

by Dana Lenseth

Wendy Brandow hard at work in the sorting room of St. Andrew’s The Shop (Dana Lenseth)

St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church will host a free dinner Thursday called “Love Thy Neighbor” where community members come in to share a meal and have an opportunity to visit the church’s thrift shop.

Everyday in the thrift shop, goods are donated, sorted, and put on a shelf. But, more often than not, the person who donates is given more credit than the person who does all the sorting and stocking. Wendy Brandow, a Selkirk resident and an Albany native, is the co-coordinator and a faithful sorter and stocker at St. Andrew’s secondhand store, The Shop.

The Shop at St. Andrew’s was founded in February of 1979 by Brandow and a small group of parishioners dedicated to the mission of providing the Pine Hills community with a warm atmosphere in which to find affordable, gently used merchandise.

Brandow said that she has been volunteering most of her adult life. In addition to working at least three days a week at The Shop, Brandow is also a member of the Albany Garden Society and the Bethlehem Historical Society. So, when Brandow is not in the garden, or preserving Bethlehem’s history, or taking care of her grandchildren (a task she has in common with many of her fellow volunteers), she works tirelessly with roughly 15 other regular volunteers at The Shop.

In order to keep all of the donations organized, and to meet the $16,500 per year quota they must reach for the church, all of the responsibility falls on the shoulders of Brandow and the other volunteers. The money The Shop brings in goes directly back to the church. A percentage goes to outreach and another percentage goes toward Shop upkeep. The workload is always ahead of the volunteers, they all agree, but the dedication of the volunteers is unwavering. In 2010 alone, The Shop generated $16,860 for the parish and an additional $5,000 in outreach grants.  The grants are filtered through an outreach committee who decides which organization the funds will help. The beauty of The Shop is the idea that funds raised are “recycled back into the community,” said St. Andrew’s Outreach Committee’s Annual Report. Not only does The Shop impact the Pine Hills community, it helps those less fortunate across the map. This year, surplus items were donated to other charitable organizations; extra bedding was given to the Mohawk-Hudson Humane Society and shoes were sent to Appalachia for the “Shoes for the Shoeless” project.

Now into its third decade of operation, Brandow, one of the four original founders, said how small the operation was when it started. In the years before The Shop’s founding, St. Andrew’s hosted a biannual rummage sale. The sales were exhausting events that consisted of 12 hour days leading up to the actual sale. Eventually, coordinators of the rummage sales decided that the sensible thing to do would be to open a permanent store. The idea was that this store would be consistently in place so volunteers could gradually pick away at the work. Using the funds they raised from the rummage sale in 1978, the rector and the four people in charge of the last sale started The Shop in two classrooms in the upstairs of the church.

Brandow fondly recalls The Shop in its early days of operation. While she would sort and stock the donated merchandise, Brandow’s three children would play outside the window of the church where she could still see them. Brandow, who has been a parishioner of St. Andrew’s since 1957, joked that she brought the kids to church so often in their childhood that is probably why their church attendance is so sporadic now.

Through the years, the store needed more space and ultimately ended up in the basement of St. Andrew’s. Today, The Shop occupies the entire hallway with room after room filled with secondhand merchandise. Their book room is particularly popular with customers, but The Shop has everything from clothes to curtains to Christmas decorations. With donations coming in from parishioners and Pine Hill residents alike, the volunteers often find themselves overwhelmed by the gratitude of others.

Because The Shop is a strictly volunteer operation, more often than not, even more than merchandise donations, The Shop is in most need of donations of time. Some helpers can only give their time once a month, whereas volunteers like Brandow and, her co-coordinator, Lisa Walker are present at The Shop multiple times a week. Occasionally, frequent shoppers become volunteers, but, as Betty Nubbemeyer said, “there’s always something to do.”

Nubbemeyer (left) and Brandow (right) sorting and pricing clothes (Dana Lenseth)

Despite their constantly busy state, hopes for The Shop’s future are never far from the volunteers’ minds. Some of the proceeds from The Shop have been used to repair flooding problems in the basement. Now, the next project the volunteers hope to tackle is remodeling the corridor to make better product displays. However, these plans, which include ideas for installing new lighting, have been discussed for nearly two years and the funds are just not available. Paying for advertising for The Shop has made bringing in new customers and volunteers increasingly difficult. Ads used to be seen in the Times Union and the Penny Saver, but the cost was simply getting too expensive, so now advertising is done the old fashioned way: word of mouth. Some shoppers come to The Shop every Tuesday and Saturday, the only days The Shop is open. The volunteers say their regulars come to The Shop as part of their weekly routine and really depend on it. Their shoppers come from the surrounding neighborhood and from the parish, whose attendants come from a variety of places around New York.

Along with hopes for The Shop’s cosmetic future, is the vision of broadening the current customer base. The dinner on Thursday at 5:30 will certainly help spread their message to the community, but the volunteers are constantly on the lookout for more customers and would love for more college students to find The Shop. The likelihood that students, at least those from the College of Saint Rose, will find themselves in The Shop in the near future is a very good possibility. After Brandow and Walker heard about the effectiveness of The College of Saint Rose’s Reach Out Saint Rose Day program, the co-coordinators were intrigued. The Shop is now on a list of organizations compiled each year by a committee within the college that Reach Out Saint Rose day will hope to help this coming fall. Brandow and Walker are already mentally composing lists of chores student volunteers could expediently help them complete next fall.

Pinning down who actually “runs” The Shop results in lots of finger pointing. At first, the finger might be pointed in the direction of Walker. Although, next Walker might say Brandow knows more about it than she does and turn the conversation over to her. Brandow and Walker are in name co-coordinators of The Shop, but, if you ask Brandow, “We don’t really think about titles around here, we just do what has to be done.” Seemingly undaunted by the voluminous piles of donated goods that surround their workstations, Brandow, Walker, and Nubbemeyer manage to methodically work through their piles multiple times a week laughing, joking, and chatting all the while.

“As you can tell, we are limited by people power,” Walker said, gesturing to the piles of donated items that fill the sorting room, while Brandow nods in agreement. However, when Walker thinks of the camaraderie that comes along with volunteering at The Shop, she does concede that “the benefits are wonderful.” -30-


From → Uncategorized

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: