A Hidden Gem: the YWCA Opportunity Shop
Crisis Shelter & Residence, Employment & Learning, YWCA News
On May of 1957, three Saskatoon women established the Opportunity Shop–a thrift store that aimed to provide accessible and inexpensive secondhand clothing and household items to families in need. At first, the Opportunity Shop began as a temporary solution in order to help raise funds to extend the YWCA Saskatoon building. Now, over 60 years later, the Opportunity Shop continues to thrive, and the store celebrated its grand re-opening on June 21st for their new location.
At the root of the shop’s history, community generosity is a tradition that remains consistent. In 1959, the shop was offered free rent even as they navigated through several changes in location before finally settling in a long term location at 410 2nd Avenue North. Following that, the store moved to a new location in 1985 where it remained for 33 years before outgrowing that space again. Despite the uprooting the store several times, support for the store was unwavering. The original volunteers were recruited from the community and began to affectionately call themselves the “Guild.”
Donna Kolenowski, the current president of the Guild, describes the Guild as a group of women that oversee the operations of the shop. The women act as a team that works to carry on the shop’s success.
Over 60 years later, the Opportunity Shop continues to be a successful thrift shop that recycles used articles donated by people in the community. The store hosts a variety of items ranging from clothing, including designer brands, to household items, art, and books. Kolenowski emphasizes how important it is that the quality of items is upheld as she describes the process donated items must go through in order to make it on the store shelves and explains what happens to items that do not make the cut.
“The managers and volunteers sort through the donations and we’re very, very particular about making sure that everything is in good condition,” Kolenowski said.
“We have a boutique section so we separate the designer products from the regular products. Things that are not sell-able or are maybe ripped or torn, we send them to a company in Vancouver that chops them up and recycles them into other materials. We also donate to other agencies such as the SPCA and we send electronics to SARCAN. We only keep all of our donations for a two-month period of time and then if they haven’t sold in that period of time, we send them to AIDS Saskatoon, Crocus Co-operative, and our wool and material goes to Saskatoon Council on Aging. We donate our books to the University of Saskatchewan Women’s Alumni and the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra. We donate vases to sick patients at the hospital. We also donate to the Lighthouse shelter and EGADZ and we provide free clothing for women and children who are staying at the [YWCA Saskatoon] shelter.”
Once the donated items make it through the sorting process, they will be up for sale in the store for a two-month period in order to keep a consistent flow of inventory in the store–a reality that would not be possible if not for the outpouring of support from, once again, people in the community.
“Over the years, we’ve expanded our community partners as we’ve gone along,” Kolenowski explained. “The community has really embraced us over the years whether it was support in the early years, supporting us to give us free rent or our landlord reduces our rent. The community has been really embracing for us and not only in recycling items and purchasing items in the store. [We understand] the importance of using and reusing articles that aren’t worn out and are saved from the landfills. At one time, the thrift shop was more on the lines of people in poverty being able to buy clothing for their children at an inexpensive price. Nowadays, it’s more of the recycling aspect or the fact that you can buy a $200 pair of jeans at our store for $20 or a top for $5 or a pair of pants for $5. It’s very reasonable in price and good quality clothing.”
Once the items are successfully sold, all of the proceeds, after the shop’s expenses, are donated to the YWCA Saskatoon to provide financial assistance for the programs and services that help families in need, such as the shelter, the Trade Journey Program, youth programming for young women, and Adopt a Room to name a few.
“It really is for the community,” Kolenowski emphasized. “[The Opportunity shop] is community-based. Everything is recycled within the community. The profits go to help women in need at the shelter or whether it’s helping upgrade childcare at the YWCA. It’s kind of an anonymous gift to people…who are in a circumstances beyond their control.”
The new storefront is located at Bay 1, 511 1st Ave North and will feature regular sales and special offers.
“One of the newspapers articles called us ‘a diamond in the rough’ and that’s kind of the scenario,” Kolenowski admits. “It’s a little shop that has been around for a long period of time. There are a lot of other thrift stores that have come up over the years but the Opportunity Shop has stayed true to the community and stayed true to our customers and hopefully with our new space we have a much better environment.”
By Lyndall Mack