New look for ‘Salvation’

LIHUE — Jeanne Dooley loves great deals.

Not finding them. Giving them.

The manager of the Salvation Army thrift store in Lihue boasted of a Bose sound system she called “the biggest plum I’ve come upon.”

“That’s a $1,000 unit and I let it go for $275,” she said.

A Toshiba laptop, clean and ready to go, was $150. And there’s the Farberware, 12-piece kitchen set, not out of the box, for less than $100.

“You could put the tape back on and give it to somebody as a present,” Dooley said.

And as for the Aloha wear, well, let’s say there’s a good selection, “at prices, you can’t beat,” she added with a smile.

Since she came on board in May to lead the Salvation Army store on Rice Street, Dooley has changed things around, revamped, call it what you will. She’s tried to make the 22,000-square-foot store more inviting, more appealing, more attractive.

It’s worked.

“I think it turned out really well,” she said Wednesday morning. “People come in and go ‘wow’ and that feels good.”

Retail sales were about $450,000 last year, a dramatic increase from previous years, and Salvation Army’s Maj. Mario Reyes gives credit to Dooley for bringing in high energy, service, and a willingness to try new things.

“Since Jeanne came in and reorganized the store, we’ve seen an increase in sales,” he said. “She’s the leader.”

Dooley, sitting in the store’s small office area, shakes her head. It’s not her, she said. She speaks of a committed staff of just five (part-time driver and cashier are needed) and enthusiastic volunteers who greet customers and work behind the scenes during store hours, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

“It’s not just me,” she said. “It’s a joint effort.”

That effort has led to some simple changes, really. Books, moved from way in the back to up front, are displayed better on shelves. Clothes, sporting goods, furniture, picture frames, luggage, it all has its place. One key is just making it easy for customers to find what they’re after. No more endlessly searching cluttered shelves.

“It’s much more convenient to shop here,” Dooley said. 

A few other changes include removing toys from the daily offerings and instead, having twice-a-year toy sales, one in July and one in December. The toys are, Dooley said, “dirt cheap and in great shape.” Today is the final day of books going for a dime in January. And kamaaina discount day, 25 percent off, is the last Wednesday of each month.

While Salvation Army has its local, regular customers, a growing segment of its business comes from visitors. Dooley said more tourists are finding their way to the store, both to donate and to buy. When she sees tourists buying boogie boards and vacation toys at Costco, she chats with them and asks them to donate the items to Salvation Army when their vacation ends.

“And they do it,” she said. “That’s awesome.”

Other visitors make Salvation Army their first stop, searching for snorkeling gear, boards and beach chairs.

“We’re leaving in a week. We’ll bring it back,” they tell Dooley.

Sure enough, later that day, Jim and Sharon Reidenbach of California meandered the aisles, holding Hawaiian-themed items.

“This is where the deals are,” Jim Reidenbach said.

Dooley praises the island’s generosity. Donations of health equipment, linen, tools, dishes, and untold miscellaneous items come in on a regular basis.

“I’m always amazed at the wonderful donations we get from people,” she said. “That’s all going back to the people of Kauai.”

Proceeds from sales support Salvation Army’s programs to help the needy. It offers a soup kitchen, food pantry, vouchers, energy assistance and grocery baskets.

Which is why it’s disappointing for Dooley when people leave donations outside of the drop-off hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. What happens is, others go through those donations, usually at night, remove the valuable items and generally make a mess that must be cleaned up.

Others will sometimes leave old appliances, broken computers and printers, and electronics, like TVs, which Salvation Army can’t sell and must then pay for their removal.

“It gets expensive,” Dooley said.

But Salvation Army, which has been at 4217 Rice Street for about 10 years and owns the building, will march on. Dooley loves her job. She encourages the community to stop by, peruse the shelves and check things out. She’s willing to bet they’ll find a deal too good to pass up.

“The best part is meeting people,” she said. “We meet a lot of nice people from all over the country.”

More volunteers are needed. One task would be to organize the books and “make it like a library.” 

“This is like being in a home,” she said. “There’s lot of stuff to do.”

She admits the store changes weren’t always easy and not everyone loved them. 

“Sometimes, people don’t always see the vision that you’re seeing and they think you’re nuts,” she said. “But if they stick with it, then they end up rejoicing at the fact that people comment at how wonderful the store is to shop in.”

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