TOWNSHEND — Just off the common, in a gray house with hundreds of consignment items tucked into seven rooms, the Second Chance Shoppe is celebrating 40 years in business.
On a recent day, new Vermonters Grace and Brayden recently moved from Buffalo, New York, to Stratton. They arrived at Second Chance Shoppe because they were spending their Saturday “going around to some thrift shops because it's a fun hobby, and it saves money,” says Grace.
“And look,” Brayden says, pointing to an almost brand-new pair of ice skates. “We found these!”
Grace adds, “I didn't wake up this morning expecting to buy ice skates, but that's why thrift stores are so much fun!”
Store owner Margaret “Peg” Ellingwood has heard comments like these for 40 years. In 1982, she was a stay-at-home mom with two children, a 2-year-old and a 9-month-old.
Now, 40 years later, the 2-year-old daughter, Kate Chase, works with her at Second Chance.
“It was fun to grow up with my mom running this shop,” Chase says with a big smile. “It was like having my own dress-up closet.”
“There was always stuff to try on,” she says. “I especially remember the toys and being able to play with them while my mom was working.”
“Back in 1982, the big thing was Cabbage Patch dolls,” Chase says. “They were so popular at one point that you couldn't buy them, but my mom had gently used ones at the store. I remember they sold quickly.”
Now, Chase has two daughters of her own who play in the shop while she and her mother busily restock on days when the store isn't open.
Ellingwood's other daughter, Megan, remembers playing hide and seek with her sister among the racks of clothing.
“It was nice that we could always go to my mother's store after school, or when we were sick,” she says. She also has two daughters who enjoy visiting the store when they come to visit from afar.
Riding the recycling wave
A lot has changed in the world of thrift stores since 1982.
“At that time, recycling wasn't 'a thing,'” remembers Ellingwood. “People sometimes thought that thrift stores were only for low-income people or that the merchandise would be cheap or stained. That was never the case, but it was the prevailing attitude of the time.”
Still, it didn't take long to outfit her shop with all manner of items for sale. People started bringing things to her house after she posted notices around town. She's never had to ask since.
She rented the front room for the store. Years later, she and her husband purchased the entire house.
“I've never been sorry I bought the building. I love what I do,” she says.
“We've been here for 40 years. We have regulars who bring things in. Thrifting has become very competitive, and we consign mostly high-end items with brand names.”
Over the years, Ellingwood has learned what people want - and what they don't. Items cannot have missing buttons, look worn, or be out of date.
“We've learned to be choosy so that we don't have things sitting at the end of the season,” she says. “Though we have seven rooms, we need every bit of space.”
What do they sell?
A men's section holds everything from suits and shoes to winter outerwear and casual clothing. A women's section holds apparel of all kinds, shoes, and outerwear, along with a special plus-size department.
Ellingwood and Chase create entire outfits and puts them on hangers all around the store.
“We like to take things out of the bag, put [them] on a hanger, and display [them] beautifully,” Ellingwood says. “It's all about the presentation. We dress our walls. We hang outfits, and add the scarves, even the jewelry.”
The system works. Sometimes customers come in because they want help putting things together to create their outfit.
One woman came into the shop and told the owners that she was going to attend a wedding and needed something to wear. That day, she purchased a black dress.
Ellingwood said that the customer returned a day later and decided that she needed something to put over her shoulders. “We helped her find a beautiful shawl to go with her dress. A few days later, she came back looking for a clutch to go with the outfit. By the weekend, she was ready to go.”
“We just love what we do, and we know our inventory, so if someone wants help, we really delight in figuring out what they would enjoy wearing,” says Chase.
There is a whole upstairs of children's clothing, baby equipment, stuffed animals, and toys.
Another area features collectibles; another, “household treasures.” From barely used small appliances, such as stain-cleaning machines and instant pots, to bundles of used silverware and bedding to shower curtains, sporting equipment, dish sets and lamps, one never knows what will appear.
Ellingwood often hears people walk through her store commenting on items they remember seeing when they were growing up or something that their grandparents used to have in their home.
With more than 2,000 consigners, a variety of items make their appearance regularly.
“We have new things every day because we are one of the few shops that split 50/50 with our consigners. And we have a good following from out-of-town and out-of-state folks,” she says, “although local people will always be our bread and butter.”
Across from Grace Cottage Hospital, the shop is a favorite stop for people after physical therapy appointments. Several nearby campgrounds and summer homes draw out-of-towners who often return annually and bring items with them to consign. The elementary and high schools bring in students and teachers, and people stop in as they head to the nearby mountains to ski.
“It's a great location,” notes Ellingwood.
“A nurse at Grace Cottage told me one day that the locals call our place 'The Townshend Mall.' She said to me, 'You can find anything here!' The name has stuck. Many people here shop with their earnings from their consignments. It's recycling before recycling was popular!” says Ellingwood with a laugh.
Forty years ago, there was some embarrassment when people brought in a bag of clothing to consign. Now there is competition because the store specializes in name brands, and Ellingwood and Chase are exacting.
What have been their most unusual items?
“We've sold three vintage saxophones from the 1940s,” says Ellingwood, “and when I first opened, I'd never have imagined that.”
“This summer, we had a run on dog crates. Everyone was looking for them, and we sold quite a few,” Chase says.
“I would never have guessed,” she adds with a chuckle.
Coping with a pandemic
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the store closed for 14 months, making it difficult to cover expenses that didn't stop even with a global health emergency.
“We came to discover that stores, both online and in-person, were out of puzzles, as people stuck at home were buying so many of them,” said Ellingwood.
The pair refer to one of their consigners as “the puzzle lady.” She runs a puzzle group of eight to 10 people who meet once a month, enjoy some food and drinks, and open a new puzzle to complete in an evening. They bag up the pieces and consign them at the shop.
“We put our many puzzles on our Facebook page and shipped them to customers,” says Ellingwood. “Who knew that's what would get us through?”
The shop purchases puzzles only from “the puzzle lady” because “we are sure they are complete,” she adds.
Two summers ago, with the pandemic still raging, the pair began to bring their store outside.
“We wheeled the racks of clothing outside for three or four months on Saturdays and Sundays,” Chase says. “We had hand-washing stations, and people wore masks,” says Chase.
Those sales brought them out of the pandemic with a business still intact. Masks are no longer required, but are welcomed, and hand sanitizer is readily available.
Ellingwood gets a far-off look as she contemplates the changes over her business these last 40 years.
“It's still the people who come that give me pleasure,” she says. “At this point, I'm selling baby clothing to three generations of families who've shopped with us all these years.”
“This business just makes sense,” Ellingwood says. “It's so good to reuse things. We live in a disposable world.”