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Bargain Boutique is going upscale

Cynthia Van Buskirk, manager of the Bargain Boutique, gives the shop a facelift. - JULIE BUSCH photo
Cynthia Van Buskirk, manager of the Bargain Boutique, gives the shop a facelift.
— image credit: JULIE BUSCH photo

New manager Cynthia Van Buskirk has the nonprofit store looking sharp.

Like Joan Rivers, one local legend is proud of her face-lift. And the more people notice, the better.

The Children’s Hospital Bargain Boutique is barreling toward her 40s in high style.

The fairy godmother of this makeover, manager Cynthia Van Buskirk, has transformed the once cluttered, dark thrift shop into something more along the lines of a shabby-chic consignment shop. And she’s not finished yet.

“I’m moving very fast,” said Van Buskirk, a six-year veteran of the boutique’s volunteer staff. “It’s a lot of organizational work that I love doing. We’re having fun and making money for Children’s Hospital. What can be better?”

The personable Van Buskirk, who earned a degree from the New York School of Interior Design and ran her own businesses, started her new duties in January. It was, she said, a natural progression.

Already she has made the charitable boutique – which benefits Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center and uncompensated care – a more streamlined operation for her staff and shoppers.

Part resale and part consignment, the Bargain Boutique has been on the island since 1968.

Van Buskirk’s first order of business was to clear the aisles and rearrange the merchandise. The wider aisles, additional mirrors and better layout entice shoppers to peruse all the donated and consignment items.

Signs atop each section, from collectibles to coats, make them easy to spot in the rejuvenated space. The new children’s corner houses toys, books and clothes. For the first time, children’s clothing is accepted on consignment.

Roomy jewelry cases display costume pieces, while designated racks hold queen sizes, cruise wear and professional suits. Jeans and trendy separates highlight the junior-size offerings.

“I cleared all the barriers. We can see the dressing rooms now,” Van Buskirk said. “You couldn’t really walk around (before). It was a hazard.”

The boutique continues its tradition of offering designer labels and other quality goods.

One afternoon’s finds included Kate Spade and Cole Haan shoes, Gap shirts for little boys, Nordstrom trench coats and an Ann Taylor suit, plus an array of golf clubs, two sets of baseball cards, videos, DVDs and records.

For the home, there were rugs, crystal pieces, collectible Toby mugs and bed and table linens.

People come from Seattle to shop at the boutique, Van Buskirk said. And they’ll be even happier now that no clothing is more than three years old.

“Of course, we have antiques and modern pieces,” Van Buskirk said. “You can buy things and update them. There are bargains here.”

The boutique sells a lot of furniture, an area Van Buskirk wants to build up along with consignments. The clientele is mainly “working women, moms who pick through and get the designer stuff and students,” she said, adding she would like to see more men checking things out.

To entice customers to become regular shoppers, she has implemented unannounced sales, “free with purchase” gifts, a “dollar or less” box, a “free” box and a periodic “dress up” box for children.

All merchandise is tagged with one of three colors and one color is always half price.

“I move things around constantly. There’s always a treasure,” Van Buskirk said. “It’s the hunt that shoppers love.”

The added bonus is that their purchases help sick children.

According to the most recent report, the boutique sent $74,000 directly to Children’s Hospital in 2004.

With the exception of Van Buskirk and a scant handful of staffers, volunteers form the core of the operation.

The boutique has about 25 volunteers, including students, but that’s not enough for its two daily shifts and other tasks.

“I could use more help,” Van Buskirk said. “Our pull team sorts through tickets to keep everything orderly. I have a volunteer PR person, a display team and someone who comes in to type for me. We’re interviewing new volunteers.”

Van Buskirk would appreciate a volunteer with a truck to pick up light furniture and take it to Goodwill when she has more pieces than she can handle – which is often because of space restraints.

She also needs people with carpentry and painting skills. The hours put into this type of service work are tax deductible, she said.

To show her appreciation for volunteers, Van Buskirk is creating a room where they can eat lunch and relax.

“I want them to have fun and to be respected. Any idea is a good idea. I’m very open,” she said.

Van Buskirk has scheduled special events to bring people into the boutique this spring. A mother-daughter tea party will take place May 12, while a silent auction is slated for March 30-31 and April 1.

“I’m really trying to draw from our community,” Van Buskirk said. “We’re very accommodating and very nice.”

* * * * *

Island treasures

The Children’s Hospital Bargain Boutique is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Furniture and volunteer help are especially needed. Consignments are accepted daily. Call 842-5567 or email cynthia.vanbuskirk@seattlechildrens.org for information. The boutique is at the corner of State Route 305 and Winslow Way, next to the Chamber of Commerce.

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