By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Southborough – For over 60 years each fall and spring, frugal shoppers have looked forward to visiting the Bargain Box – a resale clothing shop for women, men and children – located in the Parish House basement of St. Mark's Episcopal Church. Proceeds go to the church and area charities, including the food pantry and fuel assistance program. The shop is run by a group of volunteers, some of whom have worked there for decades.
Kristen Paulsen, whose mother was the shop's chairperson from the mid-1980s until she passed away in 2005, remembers lending a hand there since she was a third-grader.
“My first memories as a kid are helping to do the behind-the-scenes work,” Paulsen said. “I grew up doing it. I remember stuffing a lot of fliers, organizing the clothes and helping to tabulate the sales. I also remember cutting price tags out of business cards, which we had been doing ourselves for about 60 years. Finally, we'se now buying price tags.”
While attending St. Mark's School as a boarding student, Paulsen even found time to help at the shop on weekends.
“There were ulterior motives because I would be able to get clothes,” she admitted. “If I found something I liked, I would tell my mom and she's say, “Okay, you came over and helped; I'sl buy you a pair of jeans.”
Paulsen believes her upbringing instilled a priceless lesson, which her family's next generation has inherited.
“My sister and I grew up understanding the value of things,” she said. “You go into a store in the mall and you have sticker shock. My 13-year-old niece will go to a store and say, “This is so overpriced. Just wait a couple seasons and we'sl see it at the Bargain Box.””
Now, Paulsen wants to follow her mother's lead.
“My mom took the shop in a new direction by getting everything on the computer, using spreadsheets and a database,” she said. “She ran it more as a business than just as a shop in the basement.”
When her mother's health began to fail, Paulsen accepted more responsibilities at the shop along with two other longtime volunteers, Dee Cameron and Wendy Breen. The three of them now oversee the fundraising operation.
“We have some workers who have been with us for decades,” she said. “A couple of ladies have been with us since when my mom was here. It's nice to have the same staff.”
The shop attracts a diverse clientele, Paulsen noted.
“We have people come in who are looking for designer names, and every week we see people come in because they'se really trying to stretch their dollars,” she said. “We also hear people saying, “I used to come here with my grandma and now I come here with my own kids.””
Funds raised by those customers” sales help the volunteers help others.
“Since 1977, we figured the Bargain Box has given over $230,000 in helping the church and the community,” Paulsen said. “We try to use most of the money for our outreach in the community.”
The Bargain Box accepts items as donations and consignments. Paulsen estimates the inventory for a typical season is about 80 percent consignment items. Consignors can pick up unsold items by a specified date. When the shop closes for the season, unsold items are donated to charities.
The shop is open Thursdays through Nov. 15 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sundays through Nov. 18 from noon to 2 p.m. Half-price sale days will be Thursday, Nov. 15; and Sundays, Nov. 11 and 18. The shop will return in the spring.
Visit www.stmarkssouthborough.org to find out more.