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Non-stop bargains run low

Bargain Boutique volunteer Phyllis Kummerow hangs items of clothing in the donation room. There have been more empty hangers recently as donations have dropped off. - RYAN SCHIERLING/Staff Photo
Bargain Boutique volunteer Phyllis Kummerow hangs items of clothing in the donation room. There have been more empty hangers recently as donations have dropped off.
— image credit: RYAN SCHIERLING/Staff Photo

Bargain Boutique is short on bargains.

Willie Grimm, who has managed the store since 1980, says the second-hand shop that raises money for Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle is experiencing its most serious shortage of goods in a dozen years.

“Around the end of December we noticed that donations were down,” Grimm said. “I think that part of our problem is the economy. We saw this once before, around 1990 when Boeing was cutting back workers.”

There are shortages in the hospital’s other stores located in Redmond, Olympia, Kent, Shoreline and Port Townsend as well, she said.

“Representatives from all the stores meet every month,” Grimm said, “so I know it’s across the board.

“As the economy goes, so go the stores.”

The money the businesses make is used to pay for the care at Children’s Hospital gives to less-advantaged families.

In a typical year, Bargain Boutique contributes from $82,000 to $87,000 to that fund.

“Donations help kids get the best medical care available,” Children’s Hospital administrator Daniel Mullen said. “They ensure that no child is turned away based on a family’s ability to pay.”

Bargain Boutique also keeps an account for Helpline, outfitting job-seekers the human services nonprofit sends to the store. Unsold clothes are often donated to women’s shelters.

“We do what we can,” Grimm said.

The store carries a wide array of goods.

While Bargain Boutique avoids non-working electronic equipment, Grimm says, and does not take donations of stereos, computers, TVs or child car seats, the store welcomes clean clothing and small items of all sorts.

“We try to keep our ‘look’ changing,” Grimm said.

Upscale bins

Bargain Boutique takes merchandise on consignment, but depends on donations.

Store prices have risen over the years, and the inventory has become more upscale. The upscale trend of rents in Winslow is responsible, according to Grimm.

And Boutique workers note that the higher-quality goods move off the shelves; designer clothing sells quickly, as do small furniture items and collectibles.

Collectibles attract the antique dealers from as far away as Eastern Washington, Grimm says. Store workers have learned to identify the dealers by the items they ask to see – and sometimes by the monocle they use to examine them.

The staff of five managers who rotate throughout the work week and the 28 volunteers enjoy people-watching in general, volunteer Dorry Jones says.

“It’s always fun and festive,” Jones said. “It’s like a general store – people come in and visit. They sometimes come here to hide out, like the young mothers come in when the kids take a nap. Or people will say, ‘I don’t know why I came in, my car just turned in here’ but then they go home with treasures.”

Grimm, whose car has been turning in to the Bargain Boutique parking lot for 22 years, hopes that the store – and the principles of philanthropy that sustain the endeavor – continue to flourish.

“We support the community,” Grimm said, “so we hope the community will support us.”

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