Lockdown easing: Charity shops reopen offering more than mere bargains

Loss of income for charities due to the closure of their shops has been ‘hammer blow’

Siobhán McGuinness of  Making it Matter charity shop  in Dún Laoghaire  checks the price on an electric guitar for sale on the first day of reopening  since  Covid-19 restrictions were lifted. Photograph: Alan Betson

Siobhán McGuinness of Making it Matter charity shop in Dún Laoghaire checks the price on an electric guitar for sale on the first day of reopening since Covid-19 restrictions were lifted. Photograph: Alan Betson

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The customers of Making it Matter in Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, were interested in more than simply snagging a bargain when the charity shop reopened for the first time in five months on Monday.

Store manager Siobhán McGuinness said many people arrived simply to catch up with the volunteers. “They wanted to see how we were doing and to tell us how they were doing. It was like checking in with family you hadn’t seen,” she said on Tuesday.

The volunteers benefit too from the connections. One elderly man who used to regularly visit the store died during lockdown, she said. “We are all devastated. We know people for so long that we are part of their life.”

An older man browsing audio cassettes was told he could have two for €1, while a woman bought two sets of children’s pyjamas, shoes and socks for €7.

“You wouldn’t make much money because you don’t charge much, but that is the beauty of it,” says McGuinness. “If anybody is stuck, they don’t even need money. If somebody had a house fire, we would tell them to come on in.”

Just up the road, Margaret Barnes, from Sallynoggin, was queuing to enter Vincent’s, the charity shop of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. She was looking for “something for the grandkids”.

“I like looking for kids’ stuff. Sometimes you can get something nice. I might even pick up something for myself. I just pop in now and then to see what is available,” she said.

There are at least eight charity shops on George’s Street Upper and Lower, and Barnes makes a point of doing the “whole lot of them” when hunting for bargains. “You never know what you might find. Some days there will be nothing,” she says.

A ‘lifeline’

The loss of income for charities due to the closure of their on-street shops has been a “hammer blow”, according to Paul Hughes, retail manager for the Irish Cancer Society and representative of the Irish Charity Shop Association.

The charity lost close to €2 million in sales revenue during 2020 due to retail closures and about €1.4 million so far this year.

More than just revenue raisers, charity shops are also a “point of contact” for many people trying to access services or make connections, says Hughes. For many volunteers, too, the shops are a “lifeline” and often a route back into employment.

St Vincent de Paul generates about €28 million each year from its 243 shops throughout Ireland. Dermot McGilloway, retail development manager with the charity, says the shops are one of the most important contributors to the income of the society. “But they also make a much deeper impact, and that is their unique role in the community.”

Charity shops were mislabelled as non-essential retail, he says. “That is not what we are. A lot of people who rely on us maybe couldn’t access online shopping and couldn’t afford that anyway.”

On a mission in Dún Laoghaire to find one-of-a-kind fashion pieces, were friends Maeve Healy (19) and Nicole Covurluian (20).

Although Healy admitted she should probably be studying for her upcoming exams, the pair decided to “make a day” out of treasure hunting in the many second-hand shops. Their love of thrifting was kept alive during the pandemic, but not fully satisfied, by apps and social media accounts selling second-hand clothing.

“We were using Depop. It is still good, but it is not so much of a day out. I just love finding something that is different and cheap,” she says.

So far, they had purchased a summer dress and a T-shirt. With the planned reopening of society this summer, says Healy, they may even get to wear them somewhere nice.

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