A volunteer-run thrift store in Garfield is celebrating 30 years of service to the community. East End Community Thrift, popularly known as Thrifty, has provided gently used goods including clothing, books, and household items at low prices since 1993.
The volunteers who run the store say their mission is about making products affordable and accessible to all.
“We keep our prices low so that somebody can come in off the street [and get what they need],” volunteer coordinator Shawna Hammond tells Pittsburgh City Paper during a recent visit to the store. “I had a customer come in and all she had was $3. And I let her know, ‘You can get a shirt or a pair of pants.’ And another one came in and she only had a dollar, but she had something on her shirt, and she needed to change it. And I said, ‘Take the shirt, give me the dollar,’ and she said, ‘Okay, I'll be back.’ That's the way we get our customers.”
Hammond, who has volunteered at East End Community Thrift for 28 years, says she was raising a family in the neighborhood when she started out. A few years after it opened, Thrifty considered getting rid of its layaway program. Knowing from experience the importance of being able to reserve an item and pay for it over time, Hammond decided to get involved.
The store volunteers found the logistics of the layaway program too complicated, Hammond recalls.
“I said, ‘Nope, I’ll come in and work the layaway only,’ and it ended up spreading out to the whole store,” she says.
Although they don’t offer layaway anymore, Hammond has become a fixture at Thrifty, taking over store operations after founder Shirley Gleditsch died in January 2022.
Thrifty is a project of the Thomas Merton Center, and giving to community members in need has always been the store’s priority. Hammond says Thrifty accomplishes this in part through the store’s voucher program, which is central to its mission. Social service providers all over the city distribute Thrifty vouchers to their clients, which are worth $20 of store merchandise for adults and up to $45 for families.
“They can get anything in the store — household goods, clothing, books, toys, anything that they need to feel human,” Hammond says.
Hammond says the store is run by a group of about 30 volunteers, 20 of which have regular commitments. In addition to that core group, Thrifty also accepts volunteers from local organizations like KZL Agency, which serves people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, and AARP.
Aneesha Esteas, who volunteers at the store through KZL, tells City Paper she likes to come to Thrifty because it gives her a chance to meet new people.
Hammond agrees that connecting with others is the most valuable part of her work at Thrifty. “It’s the communication with the customers and getting to know them, getting to be able to understand where they're coming from and their needs," she says.
In celebration of the store’s 30th anniversary, they’re offering sales on top of their already low prices. For the rest of this week, unscrambling a word jumble on the wall behind the cash register will get you half off your purchase. Next week will be a bag sale where customers pay $5 for anything they can fit in a bag.
Hammond says everyone is welcome at Thrifty. “We do get newcomers,” she says, “and we always say ‘Welcome, come back to see us.’ Sometimes we are a little bit over the top with our crazy, but we’re very friendly. We are very into our customers.”
East End Community Thrift is located at 5123 Penn Ave., Garfield.