Thrifting local: The season of giving — and giving back

Betty Ball of the RMPJC.
Photo by Jefferson Dodge

A couple of years ago, a group that got its start in the late 1970s blocking railroad tracks in a successful effort to close Rocky Flats ran into some budget trouble.

The Boulder-based Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center (RMPJC) had to lay off some of its staff due to budget constraints.

Now, the center seems to have found its financial footing, in no small part thanks to last month’s creation of a thrift store on its premises. It’s not a major source of income yet, but it’s already earned enough to pay the rent. Plus, the store pairs well with core RMPJC values like sustainability, social justice and environmental responsibility.

Betty Ball of the RMPJC says the shop, which bears the name “Rockin’ Betty’s Community Thrift Store,” is not just a steady source of income.

“It seems like it really fits in with our mission, too,” she says. “Give people what they need, keep things out of the landfill and encourage people’s recycling habits.”

Thrift stores like the one at the RMPJC seem to be playing an increasingly important role in the Boulder County economy as more and more people turn to reuse — even when they can afford to buy new.

And at this time of year, when the fervor of holiday shopping fever reaches a frenzy, thrift stores that benefit local nonprofits and our neighbors in need seem to be an especially logical choice.

It takes the whole “shop local” theme a step further.

It’s “shop local, and for a good cause.”

Ball’s diminutive frame belies her fiery spirit. The longtime expert on nonviolence smiles brightly while giving a tour of the small thrift store, which is housed in the RMPJC offices near Quince and Broadway.

“Lucky’s is the anchor at the west end, we’re the anchor on the east end,” she laughs, a twinkle in her eye.

She says the shop is a good way to “introduce people who are not familiar with our work to the issues.” In addition to the protests at Rocky Flats, which included the likes of Allen Ginsberg, over the years those issues have included GMOs, fracking, the contamination of Valmont Butte, single-payer health care, the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Israel/Palestine conflict and corporate personhood.

Among the new items for sale at the thrift store are RMPJC canvas bags and T-shirts (including a Rocky Flats version). The eclectic array of gently used items includes a copy of The Strategy of Peace by then-Sen. John F. Kennedy, sterling silver cordials, a set of Norman Rockwell mugs, a German mantel clock and a 1908 $2.50 gold piece set into a ring. Ball describes the variety of available clothes as “everything from your grubbies to dress wear.” Store manager Sheri Proctor says she’s willing to haggle a bit when it comes to prices.

But the RMPJC needs more than the community’s donations and patronage at its new store. It also needs volunteers. And volunteers get 50 percent off items in Rockin’ Betty’s. The store is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

The RMPJC thrift store is only one of many local options for giving back to the community when giving presents this season. And it seems to be a growing trend.

HospiceCare & Share Thrift Shop

“I think people’s perception of thrifting has changed,” says Lynn McCullough, manager of the thrift shop for HospiceCare of Boulder and Broomfield Counties.

McCullough has been at the store, located in east Boulder, since it opened in 2005. She says that recently she’s seen more people embrace secondhand shopping.

“It’s become so much people actually realize there’s more accepted, green — people actually realize there’s upscale things they can buy in thrift shops,” she says. “So it’s been good.”

The HospiceCare & Share Thrift Shop benefits a nonprofit that has been providing affordable end-of-life care since 1971. HospiceCare provides a range of services to the public, says Mary Chokran, the organization’s director of development and communications. The services cover three areas: patient care, counseling and education.

“Grief services are free to the community, and our educational programs are free, mostly,” Chokran says. She notes that the occasional educational event will include a fee to offset the nonprofit’s costs. “Our services in terms of education and grief are the way we give back to the community.”

Patient care might as well be free, too.

“We never turn away anyone who needs us, whether they have the ability to pay for it,” Chokran says. Since hospice provides end-of-life care, Chokran says she hopes patients are old enough to be covered by Medicare, but in cases when they aren’t, HospiceCare provides its services for whatever patients can afford.

The organization’s grief counseling is available to everyone in the community, including those who haven’t been interacting with the hospice in any way before their loss — including a children’s grief camp in the summer.

HospiceCare assists people in its 10-bed location in Louisville as well as in people’s homes, offering everything from intensive care to palliative care and help with end-of-life decisions. Chokran says HospiceCare serves 350 people a day.

“We have a care center in Louisville, so that’s beds, what you would think of as maybe a hospice location,” McCullough says, “but we also care for people in their homes, wherever home may be. So we care for people in nursing homes, at their residence, wherever they live.”

The store operates much like a typical thrift store, McCullough says, starting with donations from the public.

“We rely 100 percent on donations from the community,” she says. “What sets us apart is we do a large furniture business as well as a large book business.”

“The name ‘Boulder and Broomfield counties’ is a little misleading because we’ve expanded out beyond,” McCullough says.

HospiceCare maintains offices in Louisville, Lafayette, Longmont and Boulder and serves Broomfield and Adams County. “We started as ‘Boulder County’ and sort of worked our way out from there,” McCullough says.

The Share & Care is located at 5565 Arapahoe Ave. in Boulder. It´s open every day 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.

Flatirons ReStore

Books and furniture might be the specialties of the Care & Share, but for the real heavy lifting, Habitat for Humanity has the answer. Flatirons Habitat for Humanity, which covers the Boulder Valley School District as well as the City and County of Broomfield, supplements its mission of providing housing to low-income families with the Flatirons ReStore.

The ReStore, a converted Broomfield warehouse, could adequately be described as a Goodwill on steroids. Sprawling and varied, the multi-story store offers a huge range of donated items to shoppers, from thrift store staples like dishes and clothing to larger items.

“We compare pretty closely to a typical thrift store,” says Adam Baksa, general manager. “But where we are really different and a little bit more inclusive is we sell construction material. We do large appliances, sinks, toilets, carpeting, hardwood, furniture.”

Indeed, the list of items accepted at the ReStore reads like a home improvement to-do list, including building materials like plumbing, lumber and tile.

The store operates entirely on donations from the public, and all proceeds from the ReStore go directly to Habitat for Humanity’s operations, Baksa says.

And Lisa Gills, the co-executive director of the Flatirons Habitat for Humanity, says the ReStore’s proceeds will go toward a new program designed to help low-income homeowners maintain and repair their homes.

“We’re getting ready to do a project in Broomfield, kind of a pilot project that we’re calling community preservation and restoration. It’s owner-occupied critical home repair,” Gills says.

The project is intended to assist homeowners, an expansion of Habitat’s mission of providing housing to low-income people.

“We’re starting it early next month,” Gills says. “We’ll be looking for volunteers to come out early next month. This is a new undertaking for us, it’s another way of trying to support and serve hardworking low-income families.”

While the store is located in Broomfield, its proceeds benefit the Flatirons Habitat for Humanity, which includes much of Boulder County. There is a ReStore in Longmont as well.

Baksa points out that people who can’t volunteer for Habitat can assist the non-profit by donating to the ReStore.

“It’s another way that people can help give, as opposed to building on the construction site, they can donate to the store and that money goes directly to what we’re trying to do,” he says.

The Flatirons ReStore is open 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s located at 6900 W. 117th Ave., Broomfield. The Longmont location, at 1351 Sherman Drive, is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Sister Carmen Thrift Store

The Sister Carmen Community Center, which offers a variety of services to needy residents of Lafayette, Louisville, Superior and Erie, recently finished remodeling its thrift store space at 701 W. Baseline Road and doubled its space.

The Sister Carmen Thrift Store | Photo courtesy of Sister Carmen Community Center

It has come a long way from its early days, when it was started in a garage in the 1970s.

Store Director Karen Ackerman says the renovation and expansion didn’t result in higher prices: New adult clothing sells for $2 apiece, used adult clothes are only $1, and kids clothes are 50 cents.

All proceeds are dedicated to Sister Carmen, and the shop provides about one-third of the organization’s operating budget, Ackerman says, making it possible for the center to provide those in need with everything from food to rental assistance to bus tokens. There are only seven paid employees; Ackerman says the shop is primarily staffed with dozens of volunteers and workers fulfilling court-ordered community service.

She adds that the economic decline forced a lot of formerly middle-class families to begin shopping at the Sister Carmen store in recent years. While the economy seems to be improving, demand is still high and sales are up 20 percent over last year, according to Ackerman. She suggests that some families may still be coming back even though they don’t need to because they now appreciate that thrifting is a good option. The establishment has some returning regulars.

“Most of my customers are waiting outside the door every morning,” Ackerman says.

Among the improvements to the thrift store is a more convenient drop-off site that features a covered drive-through. Ackerman says the store’s donations come entirely from the local community and a couple of local retail partners.

The Sister Carmen thrift store is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 6 p.m.

ARES Thrift Store

The ARES Thrift Store, with locations in Longmont and Boulder, benefits Boulder County’s needy directly — by letting them shop for free.

The ARES Thrift Store in Boulder just before Halloween. | Photo courtesy of ARES

Jennifer Greany, who has been the owner and manager of the Boulder store for the past two years, says clients of the Safehouse of Boulder County, the Boulder Homeless Shelter, the Emergency Family Assistance Association and about a dozen other local organizations receive vouchers that can be redeemed for goods at the store, whether it’s a Christmas present or a winter jacket.

The store attracts plenty of paying shoppers as well, Greany says, and all of the store’s stock is donated locally by people who view it as a good way to recycle and reuse the items they are done with.

She says the store prepares for the holiday gift-shopping season all year long by setting aside new, wrapped items for this time of year, for those who want to give an unopened, unused gift. ARES also offers free gift bagging throughout the holidays, Greany says.

The Longmont store is located at 818 Coffman St., and the ARES in Boulder can be found at 2536 Spruce St., between Folsom and 28th streets. See for daily specials and hours.

Other non-profit thrift stores include the Association for Community Living, the Birds of Prey Foundation, Goodwill, the Humane Society of Boulder Valley, Longmont Humane Society and the Salvation Army.


  • MJ Darling

    Jennifer Greany of ARES Thrift Store makes shopping and giving fun. Not only is she helping traumatized people by donating clothing, but she lifts the spirits of everyone who walks through the door. Whether you’re contributing money and goods to alleviate the suffering of people battered by the psychopathic banksters stealing their homes, decimating their and their families’ lives, or you’re looking for a bargain, Jennifer will light up your day. When I’m looking for a good cause to donate to, or just need a smile, ARES is where I go. Jennifer is making a real, positive difference in people’s lives.