AMHERST — Alison Annes discovered the Hospice Shop of the Fisher Home about a decade ago when she moved to the Albuquerque, New Mexico, area and found herself in need of a upgrading her wardrobe for a colder climate.
The Pelham resident found the thrift store’s selection of clothes, including designer clothes, shoes and accessories lightly used, so it became a place she stopped by at least twice a week to browse.
So when the shop that is the fundraising arm of the Fisher Home in North Amherst closed at the start of the pandemic, Annes, like many regulars, was among those who missed visiting where she could buy clothing, household items and other items.
It’s also why she was on board soon after when the store launched an online store for its initial comeback to provide customers with a safe shopping experience.
“I have to say, I love the online store,” says Annes. “Things happen every day, and I found I was buying more online than in person.”
The online store has become a staple of the Hospice Shop, which opened in 2008 and moved across the street to its 6 University Drive site in 2018. It will remain part of the store, even if in-person shopping resumes.
“We launched the online store to stay connected,” said Ali Diamond, store manager. “It was a total experience, and we didn’t know what to expect.”
What they discovered is that the idea conceived by Leslie Lucio, one of the four members of the team, is remarkable. “We thought it would be good. It’s actually done better,” Lucio said.
“Everything else was online and it was like so many businesses, it was about building a bridge to be more open,” Lucio said.
Under Lucio’s direction, items go online throughout the day, which, like the physical store, means an ever-changing selection.
“The Thrill of the Hunt is now online,” Lucio said.
About 500-600 items are listed at a time.
“What customers love about the store is that they never know what they’ll find,” Diamond said. “We tried to transfer that to the online experience.”
“It’s a lot more laborious to sell online, and we wanted to try to emulate the in-store shopping experience,” Diamond said.
The distribution center, as they dubbed it, includes shelves with online inventory that is separate from what will be put in the retail store. For every order placed online, Lucio prepares them within 24 hours, placing the items in paper bags on a shelf with the names of those who purchased the merchandise.
The publication of articles on the online store is also the responsibility of Lucio. She takes each object to a room lit by natural light, such as a gold-plated tray or a wooden vase, then takes photos, with a tape measure and an apple nearby to show the size. A description is then written and a price is attached.
The online store meant accessibility and an attempt to return to normal after the store closed on March 13, 2020. “We still have customers who don’t come into the store,” Lucio said.
After the establishment of the online store, a pop-up store was held on the lawn of the Fisher Home in August 2020 then the physical store reopened, but without volunteers, in September 2020,
Now inside the store, clothes, jewelry, books and other items, including a children’s corner and Easter items, are on display. After six months without volunteers, 99% of the time is once again taken up by approximately 25 community volunteers.
“Fortunately, we have a lot of volunteers who have been here since the store opened,” Diamond said.
This week, the retail store is restoring hours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., except Fridays and Saturdays, when it is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., while it is closed on Thursdays and Sundays.
The shop requires everyone inside to wear masks, a rule that coincides with that of the Fisher Home. This helped reassure both volunteers and clients, Diamond said.
Maryann Reno, from South Hadley, is back as a volunteer. “When Ali called to say we were open again, I never even hesitated to say yes,” Reno said. “It’s a great place.”
Meanwhile, the pandemic has also prompted the store to create a contactless donation system.
“It’s sorted and where it needs to be within 24 hours,” Diamond said, pointing to the clothes being steamed and placed on hangers.
Curbside and contactless pickup remains available.
“We wanted to reach as many people as possible through the store,” Diamond said. “This is the busiest month (March) we’ve had since before March 2020.”
For people who are intentional in both their purchasing and giving habits, Hospice means a connection to the concept of dignity for all.
“Shopping here is like making a donation. We have a very dedicated customer base,” Diamond said. “We feel very lucky. We feel part of the community.
Besides the friends she has made with customers and volunteers, Annes said shopping there makes sense.
“With the rising cost of goods, shipping, and ideas of keeping things local, Hospice Shop is making shopping profitable, eco-friendly, and giving back to the community,” Annes said.
Scott Merzbach can be contacted at email@example.com.