Second Hand Store reopens to a crowd
The Second Hand Store in Edgartown reopened Monday, more than a month after a disagreement between the store's former managers and the directors of the Boys and Girls Club of Martha's Vineyard, which operates the store, led to its abrupt closure and the dismissal of its employees.
On the morning of July 14, Joe Forte, president of the directors, and board member Kelly Hess dismissed store manager Darlene Kelly and all present volunteers. They did so at the shop, while customers were present. The employees and customers were then escorted out of the store, while a locksmith changed the locks behind them.
Several hours later, assistant manager Penny Townes, who has worked at the store as a volunteer and employee for more than 25 years but was not at the store July 14, received a call at her home from Mr. Forte, telling her that the club's board had also dismissed her.
The firings created a backlash from members of the community who sharply criticized the board's decision and the manner in which it acted to dismiss the two long-standing employees. Comments poured in to The Times' online forum, some threatening to organize a boycott of the store.
In response, the board wrote a Letter to the Editor of the Times defending its decision. In that letter, Mr. Forte said the changes came in response to a "total unwillingness of the store employees to operate the store as the board believes it should." He said the staff had shown "opposition and hostility" to the operational changes proposed by the board and threatened to "create a public campaign" against the board. He said that ultimately the board decided that the employee attitudes were unacceptable.
In a telephone conversation on July 22, Ms. Townes denied that the store employees were hostile to the board or had tried to organize a public campaign.
Another issue was the profitability of the store. The Second Hand Store is intended to be a revenue source to support Boys and Girls Club programs. According to financial records requested by The Times, overall store revenue has dropped over the past three years.
Despite the vigorously critical backlash, the reopening of the Second Hand Store seems to have weathered the threats of a boycott from supporters of the former management, according to the store's new manager, Deborah Alpert-Sylvia.
Photos by Alex Bell
"We had a fantastic first day," said Ms. Alpert-Sylvia, as she worked the check-out desk at the store on Monday. "People were lined up outside waiting at nine this morning. They came in with a lot of positive reinforcement about how the store looks. Not one person came in with anything negative to say. I was told beforehand that that was going to happen, but not one bad comment."
Ms. Alpert-Sylvia, who grew up in and lives in Needham, has managed two other thrift stores for nonprofit enterprises such as the Second Hand Store, one on behalf of the American Cancer Society and the other for Haddasah. She grew up coming to the Island during the summer to visit her grandfather, H.L. Butler, who owned a dry cleaning store that bore his name. Ms. Alpert-Sylvia, who still has a job on the mainland, visits her husband who is an Islander on weekends. She says she hopes to move to the Island full-time soon.
Despite the tough circumstances that brought her to the Second Hand Store, Ms. Alpert-Sylvia is eager to get to work and put her stamp on management of the store. "Physically we are going to try to get some higher-end clothing upstairs," she said as she negotiated the price of an authentic blue sombrero with a customer. "We will be doing better display work. We are not trying to do too much change right away. The prices will still be the same thrift-store prices. It's still going to be for the Islanders and not just visitors."
How will she address the problems the directors say plagued the store before the shake-up? Ms. Alpert-Sylvia said she will work hard to tighten things up.
"We are already better at the accounting. Receipts will be given to everybody. We will at least write a 'thank you' for everyone who brings stuff in to make them feel better and wanted. Whatever we can do to be good to our customers. And we negotiate."
Working next to Ms. Alpert-Sylvia was Boys and Girls Club board member Karel Mattison of Edgartown. Saying that the board was extremely pleased that the store was opened to such a good reception, Ms. Mattison responded to those who questioned the board's decision.
"Did the board make the right decision? I hope the board will always make the right decision."
To which a confident Ms. Alpert-Sylvia jumped in, "The board definitely made the right decision!"
Customers in the crowed store didn't seem to mind who was managing the store, as long as they got good deals on the donated goods that range from the dilapidated to the delightful.
"It's my second time in the store," said Nathan Palmer, 18, a visitor from Milton. "I am down here for a week and was bummed out that the store had been closed. I am leaving tomorrow and saw it open today. They have a lot of random stuff for cheap, so I didn't really notice any changes. I bought a Michael Crichton book and Plato's Dialogues, which would have cost me like $50 at a Barnes & Noble, for under two bucks. So I'm psyched."
Shortly after Mr. Palmer made his purchases, a large group of women dressed for a day out on the town paraded in with their arms full of bags.
"I had a luncheon for 21 of my girlfriends for my birthday, and I told them to bring donations for the store instead of gifts," said Marsha Earn, who lives on the Island full-time. "I think we are more donaters than shoppers. We are just trying to help put this place back together. The place really looks great."