My Christmas shopping got a jump-start the other day when I wandered into Chicken Alley looking for cookie tins. I found them right away, but I found a whole lot more, too.
Customers line up outside. When I get in, the first thing that amazes me is all of the holiday gear. There are ornaments and Christmas dishtowels, stocking stuffers and special cups for Santa’s glass of milk. “Christmas donations start coming in the week after Christmas, and we store them all year until about November,” says Chicken Alley manager Jessica Tartell. “We had close to 500 boxes this year, which is more than we’ve ever had. People can’t always keep things in storage, or their tastes change. We also get excess inventory from retailers who haven’t been able to sell things, or who’ve gone out of business.” Thanks to those donations, the thrift shop has a lot of new stocking stuffers, among other things.
It’s a good thing that the thrift shop has so much, because conventional retailers are having a hard time getting products on the shelves. Supply chain issues have left cargo ships full of new goods stranded at ports, and raw materials are in short supply. Thrift shopping is a growing trend, too. “There has really been a change in shopping habits,” Tartell says. “Resale and secondhand shopping has become the norm for a lot of people of all socioeconomic backgrounds, not just people in need. All over the country now, secondhand shopping has exploded, both in person and online. We’re keeping things out of landfills and extending their life cycle.”
The Chicken Alley thrift store is the second-oldest program of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, and all of its profits go into supporting the agency. In addition, the thrift shop provides clothing and other items to Islanders in need all year round, who are referred to them through Community Services’ programs. “We are one of the most successful thrift shops in the U.S. based on gross sales per square foot,” Tartell says. “Our sales are more than most thrift shops would ever dream of having. We’re small, but we have amazing things. I have an amazing team of both staff and volunteers, and none of this would be possible without that team.” Caroline Gagliard is a volunteer who is setting up one of the Christmas displays. “I love it here,” she says. “I wish more people would volunteer.”
It’s fun and social for shoppers, too. I saw several people I know combing through the shelves and racks. Marjorie Potts of West Tisbury browsed the book section, admiring a vintage hardcover of one of Wallace Stegner’s novels, eager to talk about the great books she’s found there. In the kitchen section, Susan Feeney, a visitor from Northborough, exclaimed over a basket of cookie cutters. “My mother had these when I was growing up,” she said. “I just have to buy them for old times’ sake.” The atmosphere is friendly as we gear up for the holidays, or just look for work clothes.
When it comes to gift-giving, Chicken Alley is ready. “I find a lot of our shoppers would rather give a meaningful gift than a generic gift,” Tartell says. “You’re much more likely to find something special at Chicken Alley than at TJ Maxx. A lot of shoppers are seeing that gifting thrift has more value, not just financially but in terms of the reception they’re getting from the recipient. At this time, we’re trying to reduce our consumption and focus on meaning.” She didn’t always feel that way about secondhand gifts, but a gift from her sister changed her mind. “Years ago, my sister gave me a beautiful wrap, and she wouldn’t tell me where she’d gotten it. Later, my mom told me that she’d gotten it at a thrift shop, and was kind of embarrassed about it. To this day, it’s one of the most special things I’ve ever received. There should be no shame in giving secondhand. You’re giving a unique item, something that sticks in someone’s memory.”
I walked out with a bag full of gifts, decorations, and a few more little things. I found a jigsaw puzzle to keep the family quietly amused on Christmas morning (as if they’re ever quiet), a book for my daughter, and a really nice article of clothing for my mother. I would normally buy her something new, but this just felt nice. Was it all right? Buying a secondhand Christmas gift felt a little odd, and I also worry that maybe it reminded me of her because it was hers. That is, was this something she’d brought into the thrift shop earlier this year? I’ll find out on Christmas morning. Meanwhile, I’ll be back at the thrift shop for more things. I’m seriously thinking about those Santa mugs.
Chicken Alley is located at 38 Lagoon Pond Road in Vineyard Haven. It’s open Wednesday through Saturday, from 11 am to 5 pm, and extended hours can be available by appointment. The shop will be closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. For more information, and to see a very small selection of what’s available, check out the website at chickenalley.org.