SURREY — Sorting through donated goods isn’t exactly a glamorous job, but the volunteers at East-West Thrift Store seem to relish the time-consuming task.
The new store has made the most of collected merchandise since it opened in the first week of July as a charitable enterprise.
“We’ve had an amazing turnout, both with donations and the customers who come in here – they’re so diverse,” Jas Gill, a founder of the store, told the Now.
“People from everywhere in the community are coming here, and our merchandise really reflects that.”
The shop, located at 9430 120th Street, is unique to Surrey, Gill says, because it primarily collects and sells gently-used “ethnic” clothing, along with household goods, books, toys and the like.
The store’s official grand opening is on Saturday, Aug. 6 from 2 to 4 p.m. (SEE POSTER BELOW)
Last spring, Gill approached some friends, including Raj Arneja and Kiran Malli, with her idea for the thrift store, with donated clothing as a main component of it.
“That stemmed from the realization that we didn’t have anywhere to take our Indian wear and our cultural items,” Gill said. “A place like Value Village will take those things, yes, but they don’t know how to price them, they don’t know how a three-piece goes together or how a lengha or a sari does – what goes with a sari, things like that.”
There’s some sophistication involved in putting those items together as an outfit, Arneja added.
“That’s what we know, and also how to price things accordingly,” she said. “This lengha here, it’s $195 on this rack but it probably retailed for something more like $1,000, and it’s probably been worn once by the person who dropped it off, maybe the bride who donated it. There’s another one there, a beautiful bridal lengha that we priced under $500, and it’s more like a $2,000 one. It’s so beautiful.”
Few Indian outfits come “stitched” when sold in stores, Arneja explained.
“They typically come in three pieces of material and that gets taken to a tailor and is made into (a fitted outfit),” she said. “The majority of what we’re getting donated here is already-stitched suits, and it’s great. We call them ready-mades.”
Money collected at the cash register goes to a charity chosen by SEVA Thrift (“seva” is a Sanskrit word meaning “selfless service”). This year’s beneficiary is Surrey Hospital & Outpatient Centre Foundation.
“Next year we might (fund) a homeless shelter or a seniors centre – we don’t know yet, we will decide as a group,” Gill said. “But we are 100-per-cent non-profit and all of us are volunteers, everyone. Nobody here is taking a paycheque, but of course we have to pay operating costs to run the store – the lease, the lights.”
An “overwhelming” amount of donated goods has streamed into the store since the start of summer, Gill said.
“Our community, Indo-Canadians, we’re big consumers but we don’t necessarily know what to do with our merchandise once we’re done with it, especially clothing,” she said. “Here, we’re about making sure it doesn’t go in the garbage or just sits in a closet somewhere, it can go to someone who needs it for a reasonable price. And we raise money that way, too.”
The store is open Tuesday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“We’re working hard right now, spending a lot of time here, but I don’t mind, and all the volunteers are great,” Gill said. “I call it a black hole, and there’s the (space-themed) painting on the wall from the video arcade that was here before. It’s perfect, because once (volunteers) come here, they can never leave – there’s always something to do, and it’s a fun environment, too,” she added with a laugh. “We have tea together in the afternoon, it’s great.”
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