Peterson Thrift Shop is more than bargains, it's family

  • Published
  • By Monica Mendoza
  • 21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
Mimi Ogden went to the Peterson Thrift Shop in search of a good bargain. She found something more.

She found sisterhood, friendship and a family.

"I enjoy it, to be with the ladies," said Ms. Ogden, a long-time Thrift Shop volunteer. "My husband died very young, so being a volunteer, it helps with my sanity. We have a nice group of people - it's a big family."

For more than 30 years the Thrift Shop, owned and operated by the Peterson Spouses' Club, has been a bargain-hunter's dream, an Airman's one-stop shop in dorm room décor and a spouse's savior in getting a kitchen together after yet another move. For a group of more than 60 volunteers, almost all retired spouses, the Thrift Shop has become their place, their sanctuary, said Bev Jennings, Thrift Shop manager. They run the shop top to bottom, stocking shelves, keeping inventory and selling items.

"It's a social organization as much as it is a working one," Ms. Jennings said. "Sometimes older people don't feel needed. We absolutely need them. They have a function that is absolutely great - and it's fun."

Gerry Heedt enjoys it so much she's been a volunteer at the Thrift Shop since 1972.

"I get to meet all these ladies and customers," she said looking around the shop. "I love it."

The Thrift Shop sells donated items and operates as a consignment store. Shelves are stocked with clothes, shoes, books, glassware, artwork, drapes, rugs and more. All of the proceeds are donated to military and civilian charities. In 2009, the Peterson Spouses' Club awarded $12,000 in college scholarships to military spouses and family members. The club also donates to national organizations such as the Fisher House, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, and local organizations such as the Airman's Attic.

There's a huge amount of work involved in raising $12,000 when most of the items in the shop sell for a few dollars, said Sandy Gearhart, Peterson Spouses' Club president.

"It truly is a labor of love, and it would not be possible without the dedication of our staff and volunteers," Ms. Gearhart said.

The Thrift Shop dates back to Ent Air Force Base in downtown Colorado Springs and moved to Peterson Air Force base in 1976, when Ent AFB closed. Sharon Emrick, Thrift Shop chairman, recalls that back in the late 1980s, base thrift shops had always been an interest of the wives' club. At one time a four-star general even built shelves in the current Thrift Shop at the behest of his wife, she said.

"At the time we had a little coin box - no cash register," Ms. Emrick said.

Over the years, the Thrift Shop has expanded and the ladies joke that there is now "a computerized cash register." Each of the volunteers have a job - cashier, consignment clerk, ticket person, floor clerk, and office assistant. During peak season, usually spring months, the staff handles thousands of items each month. Staffers joke that they were "green" long before it was fashionable. Donating and consigning with the Thrift Shop is like having your own garage sale without the hassle, Ms. Emrick said.

"This is a great place to come and bring those things you don't need and you can make your money and at the same time you are supporting charity and I think that's just great," Ms. Emrick said.

Thrift Shop clerks say now is the time to do "spring cleaning" because there is room in the consignment area. Sometimes there are so many items that there is a waiting list for space. The shop keeps 25 percent of the sale price on consigned items.

"People do all this moving, and they've got stuff that doesn't fit anymore in their new house," Ms. Jennings said. "This is the place to get rid of it."

This year, the Air Force celebrates the Year of the Air Force Family. In his memo detailing the campaign, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz wrote that Air Force families include active duty, Reserve and Guard members, spouses, dependents, Department of Defense civilians and retirees.

The volunteers at the Thrift Shop said they already knew they had an Air Force family in their group of volunteers. Outside of the shop, volunteers meet for lunches, dinners and birthdays. They pass on dentist's names, share stories of their grandchildren and support each other through illnesses and deaths. "We love each other," Ms. Jennings said.

"These ladies are the greatest bunch of women," Ms. Jennings said. "They schedule their doctor appointments and other things they have to do around their work time - and they don't have to do that. They wouldn't be here, I hope, if they didn't love it."

· The Peterson Thrift Shop, Building 615, off Otis Street and Wurtsmith Avenue, is open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday to Friday and from 10 a.m. to noon the first and third Saturday of the month. Consignments are taken during week days. The shop is closed Mondays and the entire month of July.