A longtime source of camaraderie and affordable women’s clothing will come to an end in the next month or two, as Ellis Medicine shuts down its thrift store.
The Elite Repeat Boutique on McClellan Street was created 31 years ago to boost the former St. Clare’s Hospital, and continued in that role after St. Clare’s merged with Ellis and Bellevue hospitals. Ellis is closing it now because of the cost of maintaining an aging, freestanding building and because it is concentrating its fundraising efforts through The Foundation for Ellis Medicine.
The Rev. Tony Green, a chaplain who is Ellis Medicine’s patient experience officer and previously was director of pastoral care and volunteer services, said the work that the corps of Ellis volunteers does at the thrift store is well-appreciated.
“Personally, I’m sad to see it close,” he said, and he’s hoping to to find other volunteer opportunities for the Elite Repeat volunteers within Ellis Medicine and its three campuses, each of which have gift shops staffed by volunteers.
The key difference between the thrift and gift shops, Green said, is that gift shops are contained within the hospital buildings. Sales at the gift shops don’t bring in any more revenue than sales at the thrift shop, but they are serving a direct need for hospital patients or staff or visiting family members.
Green said many of the thrift shop volunteers have worked there for many years, but standing out among them is its manager, Elvira Neumann.
“She’s kept it running for 30 years and done some great things,” he said.
Ellis will do something to recognize all their work over the years before it closes down the thrift shop, which will be no later than the end of September, Green said.
The mood in the thrift shop Monday afternoon was one of resignation, as three women with a combined 50-plus years of service at the shop worked to get it ready to open the next day.
There’s not anger at Ellis’ decision, but there is sadness, said Norine Singsheim, the assistant manager. Shoppers can register their discontent by signing a petition that sits on the checkout desk, but she doesn’t know how much that will accomplish.
“Everybody’s pretty upset about it, but I think the hospital’s pretty much made up its mind,” said Singsheim, who’s worked at the Elite Repeat Boutique more than 10 years.
Also sorting through inventory Monday were Sharon Memoli, another 10-year volunteer, and Betty Mead, whose service is in the 30-year range.
They all said they’d like to reopen the thrift shop somewhere else once the McClellan Street location shuts down.
“We would love to do it if Ellis could give us a space,” said Singsheim.
Green indicated that’s not going to happen.
However, there’s a longer-term problem than real estate: While the volunteers’ dedication to keeping the store open remains strong as the years roll on, their ability to do so diminishes.
“When we started working there were probably 45 working. We’re down to about 25 [volunteers] now,” Singsheim said.
“Let’s face it, we’re all — they’re all in their 80s now,” she added, correcting herself in deference to Memoli, who is in her 70s.
There’s a demographic shift at work, Green said. Ellis gets plenty of young volunteers at its facilities, but they’re mainly interested in patient-care situations, often as a means of career exploration or preparation.
“It’s just a different age that’s coming up.”
Green said working at the thrift shop provides a social network for those who volunteer, and Singsheim readily agreed:
“They sort of rely on this as a day out for them,” she said.
She said she plans to continue volunteering elsewhere, perhaps at Sunnyview Hospital or the Schenectady Inner City Ministry.
Memoli said she will continue as a volunteer, too, but doesn’t know where. “I haven’t decided yet. I figure I’ve got some time.”
Elite Repeat Boutique sells donated women’s clothing, only women’s clothing, the volunteers say, because men wouldn’t shop there. One of the store’s main benefits, Singsheim said, is serving as a source of quality clothing for city residents who may not be flush with cash. End-of-season sales — fill a bag for $5 with clothing that will be too light or too heavy to wear for the next six months — were particularly popular. “They’d really chuck those bags full,” Singsheim said.
The shop originally was in another house across the street, closer to St. Clare’s, but that was leveled to make way for a parking lot, and for most of its existence, the thrift shop has occupied 515-517 McClellan St.
The second floor is an apartment that originally used was as temporary quarters for visiting nuns, priests and physicians but has long since been converted to storage space for the thrift shop.
The building was listed for sale at $75,000 last week through Coldwell Banker’s Niskayuna office. The listing indicates it is 2,392 square feet, with five bedrooms and two bathrooms and was built in 1926. The sidewalk is missing at the moment — Green said Ellis was cited by the city for its poor condition, so they removed what was left and are installing a new one prior to selling the building.
The thrift shop is open 10-3 Tuesday through Saturday, except not on Saturdays during the summer. Everything will be marked down 50 percent starting Aug. 8 to help clear the shelves. A sign in the door indicates donations are no longer being accepted.
“We’ll just continue the sale until they eject us,” Singsheim said.