Cloudy
65°
Cloudy
Hi 84° | Lo 60°

‘Happy Shoppers’ Flock to New Listen Building

  • Paige Brown of White River Junction, 9, center, exclaims over a dress with her cousin Olivia Loney, also 9 and of White River Junction, during the grand opening of the new Listen Thrift Store in White River Junction, Vt. on Tuesday, July 2, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Libby March

    Paige Brown of White River Junction, 9, center, exclaims over a dress with her cousin Olivia Loney, also 9 and of White River Junction, during the grand opening of the new Listen Thrift Store in White River Junction, Vt. on Tuesday, July 2, 2013.
    Valley News - Libby March Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hannah Loney of White River Junction holds up a Dr. Seuss-inspired shirt for her daughter Cadence Loney, 16, to see while shopping during the grand opening of the new Listen Thrift Store in White River Junction, Vt. on Tuesday, July 2, 2013. "You have to get this," Loney said. "I used to read this book all the time to you when you were a child."<br/>Valley News - Libby March

    Hannah Loney of White River Junction holds up a Dr. Seuss-inspired shirt for her daughter Cadence Loney, 16, to see while shopping during the grand opening of the new Listen Thrift Store in White River Junction, Vt. on Tuesday, July 2, 2013. "You have to get this," Loney said. "I used to read this book all the time to you when you were a child."
    Valley News - Libby March Purchase photo reprints »

  • Paige Brown of White River Junction, 9, center, exclaims over a dress with her cousin Olivia Loney, also 9 and of White River Junction, during the grand opening of the new Listen Thrift Store in White River Junction, Vt. on Tuesday, July 2, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Libby March
  • Hannah Loney of White River Junction holds up a Dr. Seuss-inspired shirt for her daughter Cadence Loney, 16, to see while shopping during the grand opening of the new Listen Thrift Store in White River Junction, Vt. on Tuesday, July 2, 2013. "You have to get this," Loney said. "I used to read this book all the time to you when you were a child."<br/>Valley News - Libby March

White River Junction — Merilynn Bourne, executive director of Listen Community Services, realized with a start and a mild cuss yesterday morning that she had forgotten to buy an “Open” flag for the grand opening of her organization’s new building in River Point Plaza.

A few hours later, however, Bourne wasn’t upset at all.

“Look at this!” she exclaimed after walking outside the new donation center, located in the same location where the thrift store’s smaller predecessor stood until last year. “People are waiting to get in. We’ve all worked long and hard to get to this point.”

Outside the new 10,600-square-foot structure — which cost $2.1 million and features a new thrift store, a commercial-grade kitchen, dining hall, air conditioning, radiant heat and space for the Teen Center — Bourne was looking at a genuine traffic jam. The new parking lot’s 22 spaces were full, 15 more cars were perched on the periphery and the overflow was being directed toward spots on the grass.

A few minutes earlier, more than 40 people had lined up on the sidewalk, eagerly stepping inside when store manager Barbara Pecor snipped a large yellow ribbon tied across the entrance. The earliest arrivals had taken their places at the head of the queue at 8 a.m.

“We’re so excited that it’s close by and on the bus line,’’ said White River Junction resident Hannah Loney, standing with her sister, Wendi Brown, and five children between them. “They have everything you need for less than you find anywhere else. My daughter, who’s 16, talks all the time about the Teen Center and she’s excited they have a new place.”

“I’m on a limited income and disabled,” said Brown, “and the fact that (Listen’s) profits go back into the community is a godsend for many people.”

Even yesterday afternoon’s deluge of rain couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm. “It was coming off the roof like Niagara Falls,” Bourne said last evening. But all it did was wash out some mulch around the new plantings that Bourne said could be raked back into place easily.

“That’s all there was,” she said. “We’re high and dry.”

A meal for roughly 100 people tonight will christen the dining hall and kitchen, but yesterday’s focus was on the 4,000-square-foot thrift store. Bourne said its previous, smaller incarnation rang up about $500,000 in annual sales and she’s hoping the new one can add at least $300,000 a year. Listen, founded in 1972, is funded by private grants, monetary donations and sales of donated items. Angie Leduc, Listen’s assistant executive director, said 80 percent of Listen’s budget is supported by thrift store sales.

Household castoffs can be a bargain shopper’s treasure, as evidenced yesterday by smiling Lebanon resident Andrea Follensbee and her fast hold on an $8 ceramic bulldog statue. Follensbee, 69, said she collects dog statues, figurines and stuffed animals and had been looking for a bulldog for some time.

“They have one at a grain store in West Lebanon but they refuse to part with it,’’ Follensbee said. “This place is wonderful. It’s well-lit, roomy and the (store workers) are really pleasant people.”

A few aisles over, Lisa Damiani held three sleeves of brightly colored golf balls, a small tool kit still in its original wrapper, some jewelry and a few crystal bowls. “It’s like a hit or miss treasure hunt,” said Damiani, who estimated she makes a thrift store visit once a week. “I just come in and don’t even look for something specific. I’ve been a big fan of Listen’s stores for years. It benefits the community, the people who want to donate things and the people who buy them.”

The unpredictable nature of donations was on display yesterday. Shoppers could have walked off with a new, boxed set of the original Star Wars trilogy on VHS tape for $5, a used T-shirt emblazoned with the name and number of former Red Sox slugger Wily Mo Pena ($2.75) and a pair of fuzzy pajama pants with Budweiser beer logos ($4.75).

On top of a circular clothing rack, an orange tennis visor with a caveman’s face stitched on it awaited a buyer willing to pay $2.25. On a bookcase up against the store’s back wall, a toy Air Force One plane set carried a $45 price tag.

The days leading up to the opening were “total chaos,” Pecor, the store manager, said with a laugh. “People wanting to shop. People wanting to help so they could shop early. Phones ringing.”

The building’s certificate of occupancy was signed only Monday, Bourne said. But as vehicles jockeyed for position in the parking lot yesterday and shoppers flipped through clothing racks, tried on shoes and examined tchotchkes and knickknacks, the years of planning, fundraising and frustration faded into the background.

“Oh, you happy shoppers!” Bourne said as a cluster of customers bustled through the front door. “Thank you for showing up today. It’s our pleasure.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.