2017-12-21 / Front Page

St. Paul's: More Than Just Merchandise

By Christopher Allen

Karen Montgomery's eye for style and organization has attracted customers to St. Paul's Thrift Shop, which offers brand names and vintage items at great prices. (Photo by Jen Carter) Karen Montgomery's eye for style and organization has attracted customers to St. Paul's Thrift Shop, which offers brand names and vintage items at great prices. (Photo by Jen Carter) By the time this article goes to print, Newport residents will likely be in one of two camps: either enjoying the relief of completing another holiday gift hunt, or in a panic counting down the few days left to finish the job.

For those looking for a gift so unique you likely can’t find it anywhere else, St. Paul’s Thrift Shop is for you.

And a bonus is that the shop abides, and has for decades, by the conviction that your purchases should benefit local charities instead of large corporations.

Sitting by the window at a lacquered wood dining room table in St. Paul’s one recent Wednesday afternoon, Clothing Department Manager Karen Montgomery answers questions about the shop, an institution in Newport since 1994. St. Paul’s was moved from lower Broadway, the space now occupied by Empire Tea and Coffee, to its current location in 2002.

Karen Montgomery, a manager at St. Paul’s Thrift Shop says there are still lots of great finds in time for holiday gift giving. (Photo by Jen Carter) Karen Montgomery, a manager at St. Paul’s Thrift Shop says there are still lots of great finds in time for holiday gift giving. (Photo by Jen Carter) “We are not your typical thrift store,” said Montgomery, who has worked at St. Paul’s since 2013 and is credited for its modern look. She’s quick to share the praise, however, and says the shop’s success is due to the collaboration between coworkers and volunteers.

“Without them it would be very difficult,” she said. “They come [to work] out of the goodness of their heart. Sometimes every day of the week, if they can.”

As part of the row of upper Broadway businesses between Malbone Road and Pleasant Street, St. Paul’s has always been a go-to for furniture, artwork, books and household goods from antique to modern. Since expanding to take over the old Kelly’s Used Books two years ago, its stage-like windows provide a larger presentation to those strolling down Broadway. The glass storefront showcases name-brand winter jackets and wool knit hats and vintage leather dress shoes that do much to draw in curious bargain hunters.

The presentation can change quicker than the stage of a Broadway play. “I can’t help it, I’m an organizer,” Montgomery said. “Whatever is going on in the community, I try and make the windows [reflect it].”

St. Paul's is owned and operated by the local nonprofit Church Community Housing Corp. (CCHC), whose mission includes running the McKinney Shelter and helping low-income residents secure affordable housing. Headquartered in Washington Square, CCHC has been a player in local community assistance since 1969.

St. Paul's, a crown jewel of the organization, provides a steady income stream for the shelter, job training for residents, and a center for affordable goods.

Stephen Ostiguy, executive director of CCHC, says the store plays a crucial role in supporting local residents. “The thrift store provides [CCHC] about $50,000 a year,” he said. “It’s extremely helpful for us.”

The organization employs 40- 50 people annually, according to Ostiguy, many of whom help out at the store, learning cashier skills, moving furniture and cleaning. The money that streams in from sales at St. Paul’s goes directly to CCHC, in turn funding emergency shelters and a transition program that offers housing in a semi-private room, he said.

The store boasts a diverse clientele: former yacht and private chef Nancy Brush of Newport, often uses St. Paul’s to find unique kitchenware to accentuate her work. “I can usually find interesting serving pieces, bowls and dishes,” she said. “[They are] well suited for supporting my longtime recipe contest habit.”

A fact of any thrift store is the ephemeral nature of its products. What’s here today could be gone tomorrow. And many shoppers are aware of this. “We have people who come in every day,” Montgomery said. “Sometimes three times a day.”

Recently, the Newport Visitors Center added St. Paul’s to the list of shopping options along revitalized Broadway, leading to an observable uptick in business, according to Montgomery.

“We’re on the [welcome center] map now,” she said. “We get a lot of tourists when the ships come in.”

St. Paul’s also sees a pick-up in business during the holidays. “They [shoppers] are looking for that uniqueness here,” said Montgomery, who is personally acquainted with many regulars and often matches incoming goods with customers she knows are in the market. “I’ll give them a call and let them know that something has come in,” she said.

And with the evolving state of fashion culturally shifting back to classic and vintage styles, St. Paul’s is squarely positioned. “We get the college kids coming in groups of five or six,” Montgomery said. “The word gets around. People see what you’re wearing, and they want to know where you got it.”

Pointing to a large, wooden carved sign hanging above the furniture section that says, “Heart of the City,” Montgomery indicates it is one of the few pieces in the shop that is not for sale. “But a lot of people ask if it is,” she said.

As an act of charity, St. Paul’s pays forward some of the excess goods it receives. Whatever clothing sits for a while at the store unsold is brought down to the shelter in Washington Square.

Being located in a historic city that contains its fair share of wealth, St. Paul’s, and those it serves, benefits from the benevolence of Newport residents looking to make room or downsize. Frequently, Montgomery said, generational inheritors out of town will donate.

“We’ve got boomers looking to donate some of mom and dad’s stuff before they get back on a plane,” she said. “Somebody could always use it.”

Salvation Army

If you’re looking for a vintage shopping spree, try the Salvation Army Thrift Store at 76 Broadway (entrance on Dr. Marcus Wheatland Boulevard). As part of the ubiquitous international charitable organization, Salvation Army Family Stores use all proceeds to benefit their many adult rehabilitation centers.

The Newport location is a treasure trove as well, and each day a portion of the donated products, identified by a color-coded tag, are half-off. Additionally, every Saturday certain predetermined items are sold for $1.

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