Pitt pops tags, opens student-run thrift store

Pitt pops tags, opens student-run thrift store

Anjana Murali
/ Staff Writer

March 19, 2015

Pitt went hip — and opened its own thrift store on campus. 

The thrift store, University of Thriftsburgh, is a University-owned, student-run thrift shop focused on sustainability that opened for business yesterday. Located on the first floor of the O’Hara Student Center, the store, is small but brags a wide variety of colorful purses and backpacks as well as racks of shirts, jackets and dresses. Items in the store range in price from $1 to $12, with specialty items being more expensive, according to Maura Kay, one of the store coordinators. 

Handmade ugly Christmas sweaters and vintage sports pullovers, for example, will fall within the $3 to $12 range, but the Coach purses ($20) and pair of Jimmy Choo shoes ($90) demand higher prices. Students who donate clothes to the store will get store credit, Kay said. The store only takes Panther Funds and operates Wednesdays from 3 to 8 p.m. and Thursdays and Fridays from 12 to 5 p.m.

By business close on day one, the store had made $538 from 60 purchases. In the biggest sale, a student purchased $64 worth of various clothing items. 

All of Thriftsburgh’s initial inventory came from the Give a Thread campaign, a clothing drive meant to recycle unwanted clothes and break the world record for amount of clothes donated. Around five percent of the campaign donations went to the store, according to Thriftsburgh co-founder Anna Greenberg. The campaign collected 111,913 items from December 5 to March 5, falling short of the world record but surpassing its 100,000 articles goal. 

Student-run thrift stores are not unique to Pitt. Other colleges across the country feature similar concepts, including the Trunk at Middlebury College in Vermont and the Ole Thrift Shop at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. Otterbein University in Ohio also features the Otterbein Thrift Shop, while Clark University in Massachusetts has the Clark Community Thrift Store.

Greenberg said that, although the thrift store is a trendy place to buy cheap clothes, it also serves as a teaching tool about sustainability.

“It’s meant to show students the value of something second-hand and the value in reusing items they might have otherwise thrown out,” Greenberg, a sophomore environmental studies major, said.

Greenberg got the idea for Thriftsburgh last year, in Geology 1333 — taught by R. Ward Allebach — where she and co-founder Paul Heffernan brainstormed ways to make campus life more sustainable for a group project. 

“One of the things people kept bringing [up] in our dialogues was clothing waste and the waste from people moving out at the end of the semester,” Greenberg said.

Heffernan, a senior environmental studies major, acknowledged that Pitt provides an abundance of free t-shirts to its students, which sometimes end up in the dumpster. 

“We thought if we could divert clothing from landfills, then we would be addressing social and environmental impacts of clothing in a positive way,” Heffernan said.

On opening day, the store was scheduled to open at 3 p.m., but people started to file in at 2:30 p.m., according to Greenberg. Up to 15 people browsed the small store at one time. 

“At its height, it was hard to maneuver around, between people and clothes,” Kay said. 

According to Greenberg, the store will have two paid student store coordinators who will handle the day-to-day running of the store. Additionally, Erika Ninos, the sustainability program coordinator at PittServes, will serve as the staff sponsor of the store and will oversee its general progress.

“I think the thrift store is a really good working model of an important concept of sustainability,” Ninos said. “Sometimes people don’t understand the practicality of sustainability because it can be a higher-level concept, but this store is a tangible way for people to engage in [sustainable practices].”

As store coordinator, Kay, a freshman political science and urban studies major, will be in the store most of the hours it’s open to do inventory and coordinate the volunteers working there. On opening day, six volunteers worked in the store.

According to Kay, the goal is to have one store coordinator and one volunteer at the store at all times. Currently, there is a running list of at least a dozen students interested in being involved with the thrift shop.

Eliott Totura, a senior environmental studies major, bought a fleece sweater as his first purchase from the store. 

“It has cute little flower leaf things and ambiguous shapes, but it’s the coziest thing I’ve owned in a while,” Totura said. 

Totura didn’t have to reach deep into his pockets to make his purchase. 

“I would spend at least $50 for this at a regular store, but here I got it for $12,” he said.

Greenberg said the group will keep some of the money made from the store in a rainy day fund in case they need to make a large purchase for the store. Thriftsburgh will donate the rest of the money to the Pitt Green Fund, because the organization gave Thriftsburgh $2,400 in start up money. The Pitt Green Fund allocates funds to sustainability projects, according to Greenberg. 

Kenneth Arble, project liaison for Pitt Green Fund, said the organization was eager to give money to the store. “It was unanimously voted on, except from the abstentions because of people that were involved with the store,” Arble said. 

“We are trying to keep Thriftsburgh in the realm of sustainability, and now we are going to help give money to other sustainability projects on campus,” Greenberg said.

Last year, Greenberg said, the duo didn’t get very far with the store because they didn’t have much direction. After meeting with Misti McKeehen, director of PittServes, at the beginning of this year, they put together a proposal and presented it to then-Dean of Students Kathy Humphrey.

Humphrey allocated them a room in O’Hara for the thrift store. Now that Pitt has made that commitment, it owns Thriftsburgh, and is responsible for its operation.

“It was our idea initially,” Greenberg said, “but now it’s Pitt’s store.”

Heffernan also said he will now dedicate less time to the store. 

Kay said she is trying to include as many recycled and creative items as possible in the store.

The surplus from the Give a Thread campaign is located in the basement of the Union temporarily, and will replenish the store’s inventory as needed. The store coordinators also plan to run clothing drives in the future and encourage donations during move-out time at the end of the semester. 

“Vintage pieces are timeless and they continue to draw compliments and be flattering no matter what they are focusing on,” Kay said. “They make your closet more sustainable, and therefore you are not really contributing to this consume, consume, throw away culture.”

Kay said that she is optimistic that Thriftsburgh will be successful because a lot of people have previously asked her about where to go thrifting in Pittsburgh.

“To go thrifting, you can go any direction from Oakland, but there is nothing in Oakland for you,” Kay said. “So having something right on campus is going to be really nice.”


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