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Small shop makes a significant contribution

Carol Bernhard, left, Gladys O’Neil, center, and Leslie Beatus prepare new consignments Monday evening at the Turnover Shop. The women are restocking the shop’s shelves after a busy holiday season. The shop supports more than two dozen local charities as well as Wilton PTAs and Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Fairfield County. (Jeannette Ross photo)

Seventy-five thousand dollars. That’s a lot of T-shirts, jeans and bric-a-brac.

That is how much money the Turnover Shop recently donated to Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Fairfield County and the Wilton PTAs.

The shop, which is below the Village Market, raises money each year for both organizations as well as more than two dozen other local charities. This year’s contribution was an increase over previous years.

“It’s impressive when you consider we pay competitive rent for our store and pay for utilities and everything every other business pays for except labor,” which is all volunteer, said Sharon Sobel, who has been president of the Turnover Shop for 20 years.

“We have 150 volunteers,” she continued. “Everyone has their part to do, their shift to do. The objective that guides all our decisions is what can we do for our community.”

The Turnover Shop was incorporated 65 years ago, Ms. Sobel said, with a mission and bylaws that specified it would raise money “to enhance the education and health of the residents of Wilton.”

At that time, she added, that meant the Wilton PTAs and the Public Nursing Association of Wilton (the forerunner to Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Fairfield County). Each entity receives an equal amount; this time $37,500. (The shop actually cut five PTA checks; one for the PTA Council and one for each of the four schools.)

Dianne Murphy raises a toast while wearing one of several fur coats available at The Turnover Shop. (Jeannette Ross photo)

The Turnover Shop gets no cash donations, “but we sell tons of clothing,” Ms. Sobel said. The shop also sells antiques and furniture, which tend to be among the more profitable items, along with home decorating items.

“Seasonal stuff goes very well — snowsuits, boots, etc. — although we don’t sell skis or exercise equipment,” she said. “We’ll sell outdoor lawn furniture in May, and before Halloween, costumes and decorations. We sell jewelry and mountains of books.”

Charity consignments

Some items the shop sells are donations, some are consignments.

Every item that is put out for sale is dated. When it has been there more than a month it is marked half-price.

Besides raising money for the PTAs and the nursing agency, the Turnover Shop offers what it calls “charity consignments.”

“We have at least 25 charitable organizations that set up an account at the Turnover,” Ms. Sobel explained, “and people interested in those charities can bring in donations and have it labeled as such. If it sells, 60% goes to the charity.”

Among those charities are the Domestic Violence Task Force, Animals in Distress cat shelter, American Cancer Society, a number of teams at Wilton High School, Trackside, Zion’s Hill, Friends of Wilton Library, Temple B’nai Chaim Sisterhood, the youth group at Wilton Congregational Church, Norwalk Hadassah, and the various PGP classes at Wilton High.

Things that do not sell are donated to the Salvation Army and a number of shelters. “Wherever there is a need we try to fill it with merchandise or money,” Ms. Sobel said.

The shop recently filled someone’s car with clothing for the Midnight Run, when volunteers take food and clothing to homeless people.

“Nothing goes to waste. We use everything,” she said.

“We tend to be the go-to place not only for people in need, but we do a pretty brisk business before Halloween. We are the one place where you can get a wedding gown for $65, we have lots of antiques and odd one-of-a-kind things, ice skates, little boys’ blazers. People visit us before they go to the mall.

“We are a very community-oriented organization and shop.

“One of our assets is it’s an in-town location. Kids stop in after school, people on their way to the market.”

Bag-stuffiing sale

True bargain hunters line up at the Turnover’s door in late August — the Saturday the week before Labor Day — for the shop’s annual bag sale. On that day, shoppers may fill a bag — any size bag — with anything in the shop for $20. With each ensuing day the price goes down.

“Our objective is to empty the shop,” Ms. Sobel said. “It’s the one time of year we can paint and wax the floor. Over Labor Day we completely set up with new fall items.

“Some people bring bags big enough to put a Volkswagen in,” she said with a laugh.

The sale originated some years ago when Ms. Sobel was looking at photos from the shop in the 70s. “I was looking at the stuff in the photos and thinking, OMG we still have some of this stuff! We came up with this plan to empty the shop. It has been quite successful.

“The only proviso,” she added, “is when people walk out with 10 shopping bags we tell them to make sure none of it comes back to us!”

Student help

During the summer, the shop employs special education students from Wilton High School, as well as college students to work the front desk to make up the shortfall of volunteers who go away on vacation. There is also an employee from STAR who works one afternoon a week.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the stagnant economy, business is humming, Ms. Sobel said.

“When the economy falls a bit, we have more people looking to consign their things and more people shopping with us in the hope of saving a few dollars.”

When asked about unusual items the shop has taken in, Ms. Sobel said that “you just never know” what’s going to come through the door. Like a moose head or a stuffed swan.

Last year the store received from an estate the contents of a home where the deceased had lived a whole lifetime.

“There was a multitude of items from the 50s and 60s that had never been opened,” Ms. Sobel said. “Nothing outrageously expensive, but they were still packaged. If you were interested in vintage things — things made in America, made in Norwalk, Stamford and Bridgeport. It was everyday stuff like steak knives and linens.”

Along with some unusual jewelry, the shop received as a consignment a set of silverplate flatware — service for 12 or 15 — that had been used at one time in the governor’s mansion in New York.

Thinking back, Ms. Sobel said, “We did have an interesting antique table this year built as a glorified ashtray. There was a filtering unit so smoke wouldn’t go through the house.”

Some of the most interesting things are found in the pockets of donated clothing, Ms. Sobel said.

Beyond the wallets and checkbooks — which are returned — “we once found a check for $15,000,” she said. The person who had written it had died, and so the shop was advised to rip it up, which it did.

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