Woman's Club thrift shop is closing

Institution in Catonsville opened for business a day after Pearl Harbor attack

April 09, 2002|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

The Woman's Club of Catonsville opened its thrift shop the day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

On Saturday, more than 60 years later, the nonprofit group closes the doors forever at its shop, a Catonsville institution where customers could buy secondhand dresses for $5, ties for 25 cents and handbags for $2.

A staffing shortage because of dwindling and aging membership, combined with rising rent on the property at 706 Frederick Road, will end the popular spot that has generated funds for everything from scholarships to a clubhouse at 10 St. Timothy's Lane.

"It's really been a service to the community," said Jean Simkins, 79, who tended the store on Mondays. "People who couldn't buy things at other stores could come here."

The store opened as The Swap Shop at 21 Mellor Ave., pledging to dispense "usable clothes to people in need." Eventually, club members felt it needed Main Street frontage, and in 1963 they moved the store to its current location, renaming it The Village Thrift Shop.

Over the years, the shop has garnered praise from publications such as the City Paper and Baltimore magazine as the best area thrift shop.

"Terrific and well-organized selection of clothing for men, women and children," the magazine once wrote.

The store has survived through the efforts of volunteers such as Mary Louise Schoeberlein, 85, who started working the shop in 1954.

"We have third generations of families coming in," said Schoeberlein, the shop's treasurer. "It's been a great experience because the club members you worked with you got to know, and you got to meet all kinds of people."

Now, a huge white paper banner with red lettering covers the store window, stating: "Going Out Of Business." Items in the store are half-price.

"It's terrible," County Councilman Stephen G. Samuel Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat, said of the closing. "It was a good place for folks to get quality merchandise at a very discounted rate."

Even the large metal desk where Simkins sat had a $50 price tag on it.

"Need a desk?" she asked.

Jessie Rodriguez, who lives in an apartment above the shop, said he would miss its convenience.

"Half the stuff I have, I bought in this place," said Rodriguez, 35. "You can buy a lot of stuff at bargain prices, real cheap and good. And it was fun to shop here."

Shoppers also frequented the store because it offered consignment goods. People could hang their used clothing on the shop racks for six weeks in the hope that someone would buy them. The seller would split the proceeds with the shop. If no one purchased an item, it became store property.

In the final week, the store shelves and racks look bare. Whatever remains will be donated to other charitable organizations, such as Goodwill Industries or the Salvation Army, said club member Ruby Higdon.

Nancy Mitchell, 60, who just moved into Catonsville with her husband, said she was sorry to see the closing sign in the window.

"We love thrift shops," Mitchell said. "I used to work in one. I'm sad to see these stores close."

Mitchell purchased T-shirts and sweat shirts with historic Catonsville scenery on them, another unusual item that the thrift shop sold.

"Thank you, ladies," Mitchell said, walking out the door. "Sorry you're leaving."

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