The first thing you notice about the store is the behemoth mural on the outside of the building. Divers hunting for fortune in a deep blue sea. Dive in, treasure hunters. You are entering an ocean of riches in New London.
Welcome to Homeward Bound Treasures.
Couches. Chairs. Plates. Glasses. Flatware. Artwork. Christmas decorations. At 35 Golden St., the store stocks a bounty of household items — from your grandmother's china and Art Deco vanity with Bakelite curved handles, to a brand new-looking Graco car seat and bicycle helmet.
Unlike many thrift stores I have visited, Homeward Bound Treasures is more like a department store. Nicely organized and inviting. And its biggest asset is not what it has to sell, but what is missing — no musty smell!
"I'm a stickler for clean," says Patricia Lennon, the store manager. "I wash everything when it comes in and keep it clean until it sells. That's what people want. And one reason they love to come here. "
People might love the clean atmosphere, selection and affordable prices, but it is the sense of family atmosphere that brings them back.
"Hi!" Patricia greets a regular. The customer, who identifies herself only as "Lisa," mentions how happy she was to see her donated couch go to a person who needed it and would love it. Lisa is also looking around for what is new. "I give our regulars a head's up when new stock comes in," says Lennon. "It's just one courtesy we extend."
Lisa, shy at first when I ask why she comes here, eventually lets her loyalty for the place get the best of her: "I love this store," she says, "The people who work here are tops. Patricia goes above and beyond. I'm sure 75 percent of the customers are repeat." Patricia nods in reply.
Homeward Bound is more, though, than a place for gently used home goods. It is a gathering place. Lisa says that she has made friends while shopping here. "It's a good asset to downtown New London."
Even the mail carrier shops here.
As she put the mail down on the counter, she reminded Patricia that she was still interested in a white couch on display.
Homeward Bound Treasures, owned and operated by New London Homeless Hospitality Center, helps the organization fund programs for its homeless guests. But it also helps individuals transition from the shelter into permanent housing.
"We help them with furniture and housewares whenever we can," Lennon says. "Once people are back on their feet, they start donating and shopping here. Everything comes full circle when you care about others."
Caring about people extends to the two movers, Barry Rice and Ed Bright. "I have been on hard times myself," says Barry. "Everything in my life has been about helping people. We all need help at some time in our lives."
"This job keeps me in shape," Ed jokes, with a twinkle in his eye. But then he gets serious.
"I come from the Bronx. In New York City, I never had the caring I have experienced here in New London and at Homeward Bound Treasures. I'll never go hungry here or be lonely."
These men spend long hours at back-breaking work, picking up donated items and delivering purchased ones. And still, Patricia mentions, they've been known to deliver a piece of furniture to a customer on their own time, just to help out.
Three amigos. Lennon, Rice and Bright say they love working together and love helping people.
"This is a home away from home," says Lennon.
Folks stroll the aisles, delighting in their finds, humming to the classic rock drifting out of the "not for sale" store stereo. She says she tries to change the radio station once in a while. But there are so many regular customers who love the rock, she now just keeps the station set as folks browse the aisles, some singing and even dancing.
Homeward Bound Treasures offers free pick-up by appointment, and donations are tax-deductible. Its motto? "Keep us in mind as you do your spring cleaning, replace equipment, or clean out the attic or garage."
Hours are Tuesday to Saturday 12 pm to 6 pm. Phone number is 1-860-444-8800.
Whether you are looking for a sofa, a set of dishes, or a tchotchke to brighten up your coffee table, Homeward Bound Treasures is an ocean of quality, gently-used merchandise. But don't be surprised if you find yourself returning to discover what's new, offer and get a warm smile, or gather with kindred spirits at this unique "community" center.
"There's no place like home." And in New London, no place quite like this store.