Jenkintown Walkabout: Second Chances, August, 2019

The thrift store has a curious place in American retail. It appeals to markets that seeks either bargains or irony or sometimes both. Some thrift as a hobby while others do it out of necessity. The thrift stores themselves come in a number of varieties, catering either to retro fashionistas, collectors, or just plain bargain hunters, but they collectively represent a $17 billion subsegment of the retail industry.

The Second Chances Thrift Shop in Jenkintown raises money for the Women’s Center of Montgomery County, which provides services to victims of domestic violence. The store has operated in Jenkintown for nearly 20 years, but about two months ago, it took over the old Allegheny Art store at  318 Leedom Street and doubled its floor space. 

Robin Meterchick has managed the store and its 15-20 volunteers for a little over a year. Previous to this, she had a career as a chemist for American Water, the nation’s largest private water supplier. While her previous retail experience was limited mostly to summer jobs while in school, she says that chemistry’s demanding math lends itself well to keeping the shop organized and efficient. 

Robin’s passion for the cause clearly came through as we spoke. “The store doesn’t only raise money to support the center,” she emphasized. “It also helps victims get back on their feet with clothes they might need for a job interview or a court hearing. It helps their self-esteem.” 

The list of services provided by the Women’s Center are too numerous to list here, but they include a 24-hour toll-free hotline, legal assistance, medical assistance, counseling, and even emergency cash assistance for victims escaping an abuser. Your purchase supports those services and more. 

“Everyone seems to have some story related to abuse,” Robin tells me. “Whether they experienced it first hand or they have a friend who did. In that sense, it’s almost like cancer. We all seem to know a survivor.” 

The shop devotes most of its floor space to women’s clothing, but it has an impressive men’s rack, and a healthy selection of kids clothing. Second Chances also offers accessories, small housewares, and some tchotchkes. 

Items don’t appear on the racks unless they are clean, free of smells and stains, and in good condition or better. They don’t have the resources to launder or mend  clothing, although Robin says they might sew on the odd button when needed.

Most items in the shop have a base price of five dollars. You can pick up a nice clean dress for ten dollars and men’s suits will range from ten to thirty dollars. I picked up a perfect hat to wear while gardening for only two dollars. 

Designer label items will fetch a higher price, but still expect to pay a fraction of the original price. “Right now, there’s a thousand dollar dress in here going for one hundred dollars,” Robin confides. 

The volunteer staff includes retirees looking to fill their time with a good deed and students racking up service hours helping the local community. They all work together doing a great job providing a retail experience that rivals a fashionable boutique. 

Personally, I’ve found thrifting a good habit to adopt. It’s a great way to recycle and keep perfectly usable items out of a landfill. Plus, you never know when that perfect shirt or blouse or gift just might appear, and every dollar you spend helps someone else get the second chance they deserve.