The Little Shop That Could
Local children visited Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital’s emergency room nearly 45,000 times in 2017. That same year, physicians performed more than 6,000 surgeries. From mending broken limbs to removing brain tumors and diagnosing rare genetic diseases, the work and research being done at this hospital in Tacoma is virtuous—and expensive.
But, for the past 47 years, help has come from an unexpected source: a small thrift store on a busy street corner in Gig Harbor. The women who volunteer there say it’s “just a little shop where big things happen.” Things like raising $2 million for the hospital in seven decades, like rebuilding after a fire in 2012 burned the shop to the ground and doing it all with a team of less than 30 volunteers.
The store is run by the women of Peninsula Guild #1, one of 34 guilds that exist under the umbrella of the Mary Bridge Brigade. While the brigade predates Mary Bridge Hospital, it has always aimed to provide care and support for children. Today, the organization supports the hospital and the health and safety of the children it cares for through fundraising. In total, nearly $31 million has been raised throughout the brigade’s 94-year history. In recent years, the brigade has given $5 million to help fund the Mary Bridge Children’s Health Center, $700,000 to the hospital’s pediatric surgical suites and $3 million to pediatric emergency suites.
Each of the brigade’s guilds is responsible for at least one fundraising project. All proceeds go to the brigade for use at the hospital. Some guilds hold bake sales, others have penny collection jars and others hold rummage sales. But Peninsula Guild #1 is the only guild responsible for a thrift store.
It’s a fact the Peninsula guild members are proud of, and they work hard to ensure the store’s longevity. In 2017, the volunteers of Peninsula Guild #1 contributed nearly 14,000 hours to the shop. On any given day, they gather and sort donated items that are sometimes stacked more than 6 feet high in the donation area. They rotate merchandise through the shop’s racks, work the cash register and, perhaps most importantly, build relationships between the shop’s volunteers and shoppers.
Bev Reinvik, a 16-year guild member and past guild president, says guild members and shop customers are “like family” and that these relationships—in addition to low overhead thanks to volunteers and the donated land the store resides on, and the shop’s location near busy Highway 16—are crucial to the store’s continuing success.
“It’s why shoppers come and members stay,” Bev said, before explaining that some volunteers have been with the guild for more than four decades. “Our oldest member is in her 90s.”
This sense of community made the shop possible in the beginning and saved the guild when the shop burned down in July 2012. The Little Thrift Store Where Big Things Happen was created in 1972 and was originally housed in a small building on the waterfront that was offered up by community member Asta Thurston. After her death, the shop and the original building were moved to the triangle-shaped lot at the corner of Kimball Drive and Pioneer Way, where the shop still stands today. That parcel of land was gifted to the guild by a member’s husband in 1978. Years later, once the man—Tom Galbraith—died, the land was willed to the guild with the condition that the guild could remain on the land for as long as they needed it. So, when Bev, who was guild president in 2012, received the call on July 3 reporting that the shop had burned down, she was devastated but knew they had to rebuild.
Members of the Rotary Club of Gig Harbor and Richard Pifer, regional manager at Timberline Bank’s Gig Harbor branch, donated countless volunteer hours and expertise to help in the process of rebuilding the store.
“It took one year to rebuild,” Bev says. “We couldn’t have accomplished it by ourselves.”
Even seven years later, Peninsula guild members never take the store’s successes as their own. Alice Stenhjem, a 10-year guild member and current guild president, gives credit to the store’s “community of shoppers” who she loves to serve.
“Some shoppers come for fun, some are looking for a bargain, some have kids and need cheaper toys and books, and some are teens who want designer jeans for $5,” Alice, a retired school administrator, explained while sitting in a sunny corner of the store crowded with antiques and clothing. “But some shoppers are dealing with health issues or serious life events and they say that when they come to shop, they leave the issues they’re dealing with at the door. They say it’s a half-hour or more of therapy and sunshine in their lives.
“In addition to the children at Mary Bridge, we are serving our community,” she said.
A Little Thrift Store Where Big Things Happen is located at 6951 Kimball Drive in Gig Harbor. Donations are accepted 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The store is open Tuesday through Friday from 10am to 4pm.