March 26, 2007
By VALERIE FINHOLM, Courant Staff Writer
For nearly 50 years, the Hadassah Thrift Shop in Hartford has been a godsend to its neighbors, selling lightly used clothing, shoes and housewares at rock-bottom prices.
But on April 30, the shop, which first opened on Albany Avenue and has been at its Park Street location for several decades, will be closed by Hadassah, the Jewish women's charity that operates it. Hadassah is a nationwide organization that supports hospitals and youth programs in Israel.
Pennie Branden, president of the Connecticut Region of Hadassah, said she made the decision to close the shop because of decreasing profits and a lack of volunteers.
Roberta Elliott, director of public affairs at the national office of Hadassah in New York, responded by e-mail to a call about the closing of the shop. She said the decision "was made on a purely economic basis" and the shop's demise "reflects the passing of an era." Numerous thrift shops operated by the charity across the country have also been closed, she said.
News of the planned closing came as a shock to those who depend on the shop for clothing. Savvy shoppers from surrounding towns also stop regularly at the store, with its signature brown and orange striped awning, hoping to snag a bargain on a designer dress for less than $10.
Headly Hudson, who walked 3 miles from his apartment to the shop Friday, was flabbergasted when told that the store was being closed.
"I love this store," said Hudson, who pointed to his outfit and said he buys all of his clothes at Hadassah. "Look at this, $1 for a sweater. Where on earth can you get a sweater for $1?
"Not everybody has the money to buy things at a [department] store," he continued. "There are different categories of people, but we are all human."
While Hudson sifted through men's shirts at the store, a West Hartford woman examined a hand-stitched tablecloth runner. The woman, who declined to give her name, said the cross-stitching on the linen showed that the person who made it was "really a perfectionist."
She purchased it for $2.
Later, Mark Roy, who said he lived in the neighborhood, wandered into the shop to look around.
Roy said he had shopped at the store for years, purchasing furniture and clothing.
"I can afford them," he said. "Good bargains."
Store manager Israel Maldonado, who has known for some time that the store would be closed, looked stricken as he confirmed the news to customers.
Maldonado, who has managed the shop for 10 years, seems to never stop moving.
He is the man who keeps the store together - sorting donations in a back room, moving clothes racks, helping customers and driving his own car to neighboring towns to pick up donations. He also is called on to converse with Spanish-speaking customers when they come into the store.
"We're not turning in enough money," he said. "People, it seems, they're never satisfied."
He is losing a job he loves.
When asked what he will miss most, Maldonado said: "The people. They're good people."
Down the block, where Park Street turns into Park Road in West Hartford, Mary Millican, manager of the Clothes Horse thrift shop, was surprised at the news that Hadassah was being closed.
"Even if a nonprofit gives the organization $1,000 a year ... it's money they would not have otherwise to help people in need," said Millican, who manages the store for the Hartford Junior League.
Like the Hadassah shop, Millican said she has fewer volunteers than in the past.
"Everybody lacks volunteers. So you have to reach out into the community," she said. "The people in Hadassah should be stepping up to the plate and volunteering rather than closing something that has been successful in good times and bad."
Hadassah volunteer Bernie Katz was sorting clothes in the back of the shop Sunday.
"We had no say-so in this. We had no choice," she said. "They just said, `That's it, you're not making enough money. Boom.'"
Now, she said, she'll have to find another place to volunteer.
But she said she'll miss the different kinds of people who come into the Hadassah shop.
"When I'm here, I'm happy," she said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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