The Arc Emporium celebrates five years of operation

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Putnam - posted Fri., Nov. 22, 2013
(L to r, back row) Shirley, Ali, Abby, (front row) Nicki and Deb pose in front of a wall full of Christmas goods. Photos by D. Coffey.
(L to r, back row) Shirley, Ali, Abby, (front row) Nicki and Deb pose in front of a wall full of Christmas goods. Photos by D. Coffey.

The front windows of The Arc Emporium on Main Street in Putnam were filled with Christmas décor on Nov. 20. A rack full of ornaments sparkled in the sun. Tall candy canes, snowmen, Christmas lights and wreaths beckoned. And just beyond the entryway were more treasures: clothes and jewelry and shoes and house wares. The Arc is celebrating its fifth anniversary in downtown Putnam and the store is the healthiest it’s ever been.

“We’re doing very well,” said Corrine Worden. She is a direct support staff member with The Arc of Quinebaug Valley, an organization devoted to helping individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Emporium is an offshoot of the Arc. The thrift store offers jobs and paychecks to 13 participants who share duties on two shifts. Profits from store sales are funneled back into Arc programs.

“We’re very grateful to the community for the support we’ve received,” said Arc Chief Business Development Officer Linda Lamoureux.
With donations being dropped off daily, it’s a challenge to keep on top of things. “We strive to be orderly,” Worden said with a laugh.

She and Donna Lussier and Melissa Jensen see to it that the donations are processed orderly. Shoes are polished, purses cleaned and stuffed with paper, and clothes are ironed. Housewares are washed. There are no laundry facilities, so clothes have to pass muster. Clothes with stains or rips don’t make it to the showroom floor. Those that pass are sized, sorted by season and priced.

“We have great quality control,” Lussier said. Brand name and condition determine price, which usually runs from one-half to one-third off the original price. There are coats from Talbots, LL Bean and Columbia, tops from Woolrich and Liz Claiborne, and shoes from Nine West and Naturalizer. “Corinne knows her clothes,” Lussier added.

The work required to sort, clean, tag, fold and iron keeps her staff busy. Participants are engaged in a number of different jobs daily. “They are all learning something,” Worden said. “They take pride in their work. And they get a paycheck. It’s cool.”

Many customers are regulars, but it isn’t just the quality and prices that keep them coming back. Putnam resident Becky Varner shops at the Emporium because she likes to shop local and she’s found beautiful things in the store. “The prices are reasonable, and it’s a wonderful cause,” she said.

Sue Hall agreed. “It’s beautiful in here,” she said. “It’s colorful and organized.” That day she made herself walk past the women’s clothes and shoes. She was looking for a winter coat for a young man who didn’t own one. When she found an Old Navy parka with fleece lining and attached hood, she brought it to Worden. “I’m not sure if it will fit him,” she said.

There is a no-return policy at the Emporium. After a few minutes of talking, Worden went with her gut feeling and let Hall take the coat. “She was doing a good deed,” Worden said. “That’s what we’re about too.” 

Donations are accepted daily during business hours only. Encyclopedias, electronics and bedding are not accepted.

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