The Toolbox has reopened in Cloverdale.
Surrey’s only secondhand tool thrift store is open for business once again after being closed for nearly four months.
The store relies on donations of “gently used tools that are in working order,” says Rebecca Smith, executive director of the Surrey Hospice Society. The Hospice Society operates the Toolbox—located at 5625 176 Street—as a fundraising endeavour.
But the story of why the Toolbox was closed in the first place is a story of the Surrey Hospice Society.
Smith says the Toolbox first opened in November, 2017, and struggled for its first year with volunteers that didn’t have management experience or weren’t suited for the job.
“When she came in, she was a breath of fresh air,” says Smith. “She was the heart and soul of the Toolbox; she made it into what it is now.”
That she was Janet Child, a long-time volunteer at the Hospice Society’s clothing thrift store in Newton. When Janet arrived at the Toolbox in November, 2018, things changed significantly.
“Our store had gone from looking like a dumpy place with things just strewn on the shelves, to being organized, to being bright, and to being cheerful.”
Janet made the place her own. She set up a colouring station for kids, so parents could shop without being distracted. She set up a coffee station to encourage passersby to come in for a java and a chat. She got some dog bowls and filled them with water to encourage customers to bring their dogs with them.
She also came up with the idea of a toolpurse. “It was for independent women,” explains Smith. “Janet filled purses with the basic tools so women could do some work around their homes without having to call on anyone.”
Janet also set up a “mystery tools” display case behind the cash drawer. Filled with antique and esoteric tools, she encouraged customers to help identify their names and uses.
“Customers loved to come in and just chat with Janet.”
Janet knew a lot about tools and her vision drove the store. But her time in the store was cut short when she became ill.
That illness was cancer. Janet had felt sick early in 2019 and was diagnosed five months ago.
That is why the store had been closed recently, as Smith didn’t have anyone to run it. “Lyndsey McWhirter took on the role [of manager] with the urging of Janet—who was her friend,” adds Smith.
One of Janet’s ideas for revamping the store was to paint a large tree—also the symbol of the Hospice Society—in the window. Her idea would be to sell the leaves as a fundraising and commemorative initiative.
The tree—Janet’s Tree—was a success. Janet sold more than 100 leaves for the tree’s sprawling branches, allowing customers and supporters to place the name of a loved one in the store’s window.
“People bought the leaves in memory or honour of someone they loved that passed, or was struggling with a palliative illness,” explains Smith.
— Cloverdale Reporter (@CloverdaleNews) December 6, 2019
Smith says she will continue to push forward with McWhirter to bring Janet’s ideas to the store.
“We’re going to try to make them all happen,” she says. “I wasn’t 100 per cent sure we were going to make the store work when we started it [in 2017], but it was Janet’s ideas, her will, and her personality that made the store what it is.”
Smith says when they first opened the Toolbox, she didn’t feel like it belonged. But she realizes now, in approaching it the way Janet did, the recipe for success lies in the love, the compassion, and the personality that Janet threw into it.
Smith says the Toolbox is not a significant source of income for the Surrey Hospice Society.
“We’re working towards that,” Smith explains. “We need it to be. We really need it to be. I think Cloverdale needs it to be. Our downtown core doesn’t have enough retail and thriving businesses.”
Smith says Toolbox shoppers will not spend more for tools than they would elsewhere.
“They are good tools. We only sell things that are in good shape, but cheaper than anywhere else,” she notes. “It’s a change in mindset. Don’t throw away. Save the environment in the process, support a local charity, support a local business.”
As she reopens the store, Smith remembers the first time she met Janet.
“Janet was our Sunday supervisor at the Newton thrift store—and she was a chatter,” laughs Smith. “She loved to talk and talk and talk. Friendly. Laughed all the time. She adored her grandchildren.”
Smith explains Janet really wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. She says Janet understood hospice was about giving people the opportunity to live as fully as they could—until the last minute—and to help those left behind journey through their grief.
“That’s what drove her.”
The challenge for the Surrey Hospice Society now, says Smith, is that Janet is “one of our hospice family. So, we have to turn our services inward a little bit, which is difficult.”
Smith adds the other thrift store volunteers have all been deeply affected by Janet’s illness.
“I think we need to acknowledge there are heroes in our communities that we don’t even realize,” she says as she holds back tears. “The Toolbox is there to make a difference, for hospice, for the environment, for the community. Janet made that happen.”
“The tree is still (in the window),” adds Smith. “It’s beautiful.”
Janet’s Tree, a symbol for the memories of other people’s loved ones, now stands in memory of Janet, too, as she died on Dec. 6.