If you knew nothing about the Second Chance Shop in Dunkin’ Donuts plaza on Mountain Road and visited it for the first time, it’s conceivable you could mistake it for a chic boutique selling new clothing.
It’s clean, well lit with stylish fashions hanging from substantial glass and wooden gondolas. Mannequins are clothed in coordinated outfits and accessories. Seasonal decorations – like black, orange and white lanterns – dangle from the ceiling at Halloween. Paper Christmas tree cut-outs adorn the windows and walls in December.
In reality, the store is run entirely by volunteers who sell select, used clothing. It donates all its profits to The Village for Families and Children in Hartford.
Three stylish decorators
A lot of its aura comes from the efforts of three volunteers who manage the designer fashions, outfit the mannequins and decorate the store.
Mary Williamson, Carol Komosa and Bärbel Röder, the leader of the decorating team, are from different backgrounds.
They mend, iron and price the clothes at home and spend most Sunday afternoons dressing the mannequins. “It is a challenge, limited by what is available in the store,” says Bärbel.
Bärbel – German immigrant
Bärbel’s route to the Second Chance Shop started when she emigrated from Germany at age 28 with a master’s degree in social work. She used her degree to teach violence prevention – her favorite program – to elementary school students. Later she taught German at a school that she eventually ran. She retired last month after almost 20 years.
She learned about the shop from an exercise partner and quickly became interested after researching the social programs The Village offered. In 2010 she signed up to work a standard two-hour shift, once a month. When business was slow, she dressed mannequins and decorated the store, gradually rising to lead decorator.
Mary – former shop president
Mary Willamson started at the shop in 1978 as a volunteer shift worker and rose to president in 1982. She’s been helping with decorating the store for the last five years.
Her shop duties also include evaluating the condition of scarves, belts and gloves that she takes home and prices. She works four to six hours weekly.
“I get a really good feeling about helping the children and families, and what’s turned out to be a bonus are the friendships I’ve formed over the years,” she says.
Carol – former optical store owner
Carol Komosa and her sister co-owned an optical store in Holyoke. After retiring, she learned about the shop from a neighbor and started working there in 2006.
She and Bärbel concentrate on the designer room. “We sort through the donations and make sure everything is clean and in good shape. Then we iron everything and attach price tags,” she says. She works about nine hours weekly.
Carol and Mary credit Bärbel for keeping them in shape. “She makes us walk and eat correctly,” says Carol. “She wants to keep us going.”
And for the sake of the Second Chance Shop, let’s hope she does.