New London thrift-store makeover helps the homeless
New London — Homeward Bound Treasures, the longtime thrift store on Golden Street that benefits the New London Homeless Hospitality Center, has undergone a top-to-bottom reorganization over the past few months, transforming a once-cluttered environment into a charming, light-filled interior space.
Overseeing renovations was new store manager Suzanne Saporita, former proprietor of Coastal Consignments in Westerly, who came on in October. She and assistant manager Nicole Thomas of New London spent months cleaning, organizing and, with the help of Coast Guard cadets, repainting the spacious, 4,500-square-foot showroom that once housed a contemporary furniture store.
"We purged a lot of old inventory," Saporita said. "We tightened up on the quality of what we bring in. Everything has to be in good, resellable condition."
Out went a lot of the old china and vintage glassware. Instead, the store stocked up on everyday dishware and small appliances. Bestsellers include secondhand mattresses and box springs that all have state sterilization certificates as well as flatscreen TVs.
All electronic devices are checked by a volunteer to make sure they are in good working order. The store sells no clothing, but has an ample selection of books, CDs and DVDs, not to mention a nice selection of jewelry.
Two attractively decorated display areas at the front of the store lure people in, and donations are taken at a separate donation center to the side of the store. In addition, the store has two offside storage facilities as well as a box truck that picks up donations from Essex to Plainfield to Westerly three days a week.
"I love how embedded it is in the community," Saporita said. "It's such a great place. It's warm and welcoming."
And the new atmosphere has paid dividends, Saporita said, with sales so far this year up about 20 percent on a month-to-month basis. The store is on target to do $130,000 in sales annually.
Homeward Bound has only three paid employees, with Saporita and Thomas being the two mainstays. Payment is by cash or credit card, and the store can work out special package prices for those coming in to furnish an entire room or apartment.
"We've raised the bar on quality, but we still keep it affordable," Saporita said.
Donations come from Connecticut College and other large nonprofits such as the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Waterford. Thomas does all the social media marketing, using Facebook, eBay and other online resources.
The store offers a 24-hour hold on items, and patrons can pay by phone as well.
Saporita, who has a sign on her desk that proclaims "Everyday I'm Hustlin'," said the store's profits are given to the homeless center. And, though there have been thoughts about moving to another location, Saporita said you can't beat the free parking and the store's proximity to downtown.
"Saturdays are really busy," she said. "Tuesdays are ridiculous."
She said a crew of 10 to 15 volunteers comes every Wednesday from the Lighthouse program in Groton.
"I love it here," Saporita said. "We have a great crew. We work really well together."
Business: Homeward Bound Treasures
What: Thrift store with an emphasis on furniture and homeware
Location: 35 Golden St., New London
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Managers: Suzanne Saporita and Nicole Thomas
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Veteran Connecticut newspaper veteran was advertising director of The Day from 2001 to 2008.