When I moved to Memphis, I remember that everyone used to tell me that if I wanted to see the best cross-section of Memphians, I should go to Jerry’s Sno Cones. And I quickly learned they were right. Teenagers, young families, businessmen in power suits, businesswomen in power suits, the elderly—it seemed that Memphians couldn’t get enough of this establishment that brought the people together. I didn’t think there was a place that could rival Jerry’s in this regard—until my first shift at the Repeat Boutique.
I have always had a secret desire to work in retail, and there’s nothing more fun to me than hanging clothes and organizing them—you should see my closet! So as I marched in for my first fund development shift as a provisional, I expected the hanging and the organizing. What I didn’t expect was the community inherent in the Repeat Boutique, and the wonderful time I would have working there. Ms. Gracie and Ms. Jackie are spitfires—warm, engaging and quick-witted, they are always thrilled to have enthusiastic helping hands. I spent my first shift at Repeat Boutique hanging clothes that had just been dropped off by someone who clearly did not understand what was appropriate to donate. After we had deposited over half of the clothes into the “church pile” (including a number of tops that were not discernable between a tank for a child and what an adult woman would wear to a club…yes, they were that small), Ms. Jackie and I finally got to sort through the rest of the treasure. There was little notable about this, except the number of customers who peeked their heads into the service window to check on Ms. Jackie and tell them about their week. I loved listening to the gossip, the catching-up, the banter and the obvious way that the Repeat Boutique served as a family to these patrons and to Ms. Jackie and Ms. Gracie.
Toward the end of my shift, I emerged from the back to help hang clothes and organize what was already on the floor. And that’s when I got to see the cross-section I mentioned earlier. The peekers who had stopped in to chat were only the surface of the depth of the clientele at the Repeat Boutique. College students, suburban moms looking for a deal, parents and guardians alike shopping for school clothes for children and grandbabies (often with the kids in tow)—they were all there. I immediately struck up a conversation with an older gentleman who was trying to shop for a job interview he had that Monday. He hadn’t been employed full-time in nearly a year, and he wanted to be sure he looked the part. I helped him “dress for success” that afternoon, and I left the Repeat Boutique feeling like I had been helped as much as I had helped. What a special place this was; and so much more than just clothes or a shopping excursion. I was almost gleeful when I couldn’t make up a small group meeting and had to do an extra shift at the Repeat Boutique—I didn’t know I was allowed to work more than just my assigned shift (#classicnewbiemove)! Every shift at the Repeat Boutique is an adventure, and one that I find myself looking forward to every time I sign up.
To those who are less familiar (or just need a refresher), I have some tips and notes for the Repeat Boutique:
- Bring food with you!– Seriously, at least trail mix or a granola bar. Maybe even a bottle of water. You will wear an apron with pockets and can easily cart it around with you. But you will be on your feet doing light labor for at least three hours—hydration and food are key!
- Be sure to bring your donation with you for your shift—and be even more sure that they are on hangers!– I can’t stress this one enough. Are you sick of hangers from your dry cleaners all over your closet? Don’t even think about it—the answer is yes. This is a great way to get rid of them, and to make everyone’s lives at the Repeat Boutique easier in the process. The fact that you won’t have to continually remind yourself to bring your quota later in the year? Just a bonus.
- We always need men’s clothes and plus-size clothes!!– If there is anything that we run through quickly, it is quality men’s clothes (refer to my “dressing for success” story earlier) and plus-size clothes for women. I have worked shifts where we can barely push the cart out onto the floor before customers start perusing the racks for those two categories of clothing.
- Ask friends if they have clothes you can donate on their behalf!– This can be a win-win for everyone. You get to satisfy quota or a special sale, and they get to clean out their closet. Hooray!
- Be ready to “keep your own pile”– One perk of working at the Repeat Boutique is having what I call “first dibs on the good stuff.” Some of the clothes brought into the Repeat Boutique are hilarious and unusable (see: “church pile” above); others are Kate Spade shoes and Coach bags and Crane stationary. I KNOW. I keep a note on my phone with the sizes of some friends or items they’re keeping an eye out for. Show up early for your shift, stay later or work in the back to get the first look at some pretty great buys.
- Wear comfortable shoes!!– Pay attention to the reminder emails you get from the JLM. You’re going to want to be in a JLM t-shirt and sneakers (and, you know, something on the bottom). You will be on your feet and sometimes doing less than fabulous tasks (including hauling furniture into cars or taking out trash); a Repeat Boutique shift is not the time to bring full glamour.
- Get ready to have a great time!– Seriously, I love working at the Repeat Boutique. I know the three-hour shift isn’t for everyone, but Ms. Jackie and Ms. Gracie need reliable, wonderful, self-sufficient volunteers who are cheery and industrious. If this sounds like you (and I assume it does, because you’re in the JLM!), then be sure to sign up for a shift. You won’t regret it—I know I never do!
Note: Repeat Boutique is a resale shop operated by the Junior League of Memphis. The store sells gently used clothing, shoes and accessories for all ages; small home furnishings; housewares; and children’s items. Junior League of Memphis members donate most of the items sold at the store, but we gladly accept donations from the general public. Please remember the Repeat Boutique the next time you clean out your closets!