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Bargains are old hat to her

Patty Pelandini (left) and Willie Grimm, in the Bargain Boutique on Winslow Way. - ROGERICK ANAS/Staff Photo
Patty Pelandini (left) and Willie Grimm, in the Bargain Boutique on Winslow Way.
— image credit: ROGERICK ANAS/Staff Photo

It’s a big change – and then again, it isn’t.

Bargain Boutique store manager Willie Grimm is stepping down June 1 after 23 years, but the slot will be filled by long-time assistant manager Patty Pelandini.

Grimm came on board as a volunteer in 1970, a year after the doors opened.

Trace her history with the second-hand store, founded to underwrite care that Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle gives to less-advantaged families, and one has learned nearly the whole story of Bargain Boutique’s evolution.

“Bargain Boutique opened in half of the old Pegasus building,” Grimm said. “We were open for four hours a day – if people showed up to run it. We were so ‘non-busy’ that we could bring our babies in bassinets and feed and play with them.”

Grimm recalls the opening days as “a wonderful time.”

“If we sold $35 a day in merchandise, then that was a good day,” she said, “and we might have bought $18 of that ourselves.”

Grimm ran the fledgling boutique with an eye to frugality, once saving for a year before purchasing a new clothing rack, she says.

The women learned to run a larger enterprise, growing in expertise as business increased.

Bargain Boutique started as a project of the Lenore Ostrander Guild, a Bainbridge philanthropic women’s organization founded to raise money for Children’s Hospital.

Grimm shepherded the store through the transition, in 1991-92 to a Children’s Hospital-run business.

The hospital runs similar stores in Redmond, Olympia, Kent, Shoreline and Port Townsend.

“When it’s a guild project, it can be done in any haphazard manner,” Grimm said. “We had to become more efficient.”

Bargain Boutique has changed location twice and expanded once.

From 1974-76, the second-hand store was located in retail space below Streamliner Diner, where Closet Transfer is today.

In 1976, it moved to its current location on the northwest corner of Highway 305 and Winslow Way. A three-year expansion program undertaken in 1992 more than doubled the space to today’s dimensions.

As the boutique grew, so did Grimm’s family. She and her husband, island orthodontist Fred Grimm, raised a family of four. But Grimm was also devoted to her “other family” of boutique staff and volunteers.

“This shop has been my extended family,” she said. “I can’t say enough about the wonderful friends I have here. The ladies are great.”

Grimm will work 16 hours a week for the next six months to make the transition to Pelandini’s leadership a smooth one, then will volunteer at the Boutique. She anticipates spending time with her nine grandchildren, and there will be more leisure time to garden.

“Now I’m looking across the counter when some people come in and think ‘I’d like to do what you’re doing,’” Grimm said.

When Pelandini takes the reins June 1, she will lead a business that has matured since she first volunteered in 1991. The contents of the store have changed, too.

“As the island has grown, we have become more upscale,” Pelandini said. “You notice a lot of designer labels now. We still cater to the person with less income, but now the emphasis has shifted from the bargain to the boutique.

“You’re going to find that one-of-a-kind item, that collectible or treasure.”

The staff try to stay abreast of trends, Pelandini says, attending monthly seminars by antique experts and other professionals.

Today, the store generates about $85,000 each year for Children’s Hospital. But the volunteerism that has been the backbone of the island institution for a quarter-century is waning.

New volunteers have joined as others have left – Barbara Woodman, who still works at the Boutique, is the last of the original crew – but helpers have fallen off from a high of 80 to just 25.

Pelandini hopes new volunteers will step forward, and that shelves that currently are low on donated goods will be stocked with more donations. She plans no major changes to the store, however.

“I can’t see how we could change it for the better,” Pelandini said, “except to keep growing naturally.”

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The treasure trunk is nearly empty. After a winter of booming sales, Bargain Boutique’s shelves need replenishing.

Bargain Boutique takes merchandise on consignment, but depends on donations. Proceeds support the Children’s Hospital in Seattle.

The store seeks a variety of “gently used” clothes and small items of all sorts. Bargain Boutique does not take donations of stereos, computers, TVs or child car seats. Call 842-5567.

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