Calhoun Station, town's original thrift store, marks 30 years

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Calhoun Station's youngest volunteer, Eleanor Rabe, puts puzzle pieces back into the box during her Saturday shift. LYNNE COPE HUMMELL

Eleanor Rabe's volunteer job at Calhoun Station thrift store is to "fix things," she told a visitor on a recent Saturday morning. A small hammer dangles from her belt.

This day, she was also doing quality assurance - helping count puzzle pieces and replacing them in their box.

Suddenly, her co-workers appeared all around her, singing "Happy Birthday" as a plate of cupcakes with candles appeared.

Eleanor was turning 3 years old.

She is - by far - the youngest volunteer at Bluffton's original thrift store, located in its longtime home, behind Town Hall, at 77 Pritchard St.

Eleanor's mother, Krissy Rabe, her aunt Corinne Hildebrandt, and their friend Danny Davis are the other young volunteers at the store. Their average age is 20-something.

Manager Brynne Bowler is thrilled to have them. "We're all old ladies here - except for these three," she said. "They are an example of what we need if Calhoun Station is going to survive."

The all-volunteer store, which opened in 1989 on Calhoun Street during the annual Mayfest, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

Joyce Pervier has been involved since the beginning. She said her first job was "ironing clothes in the back of the converted gas station" on the corner of Calhoun and Bridge streets. Her late husband, Jim, was the treasurer.

Carol Cahill started a few months later, and has continued to work on Saturdays - one of just two days per week the store is open. The three served on the board with others who started the nonprofit organization.

Pervier and Cahill reminisced about the old days, when Margaret Heyward would play a donated piano or organ for customers in the store - until someone bought it or it was given to a school or church. And when former postmistress Eva Lynn had a sign on her own table for sorting housewares.

As a nonprofit organization, the mission of Calhoun Station is to provide funds for local service organizations. In its 30 years, the board has given about $2 million to organizations that serve Bluffton, such as Bluffton Self Help, Meals on Wheels, the Children's Center and Second Helpings.

Not bad for a store that is open just six hours a week.

The organization also offer scholarships to deserving students. Volunteer Danny Davis was one recipient. He has been working at the store since he was 15, and now, at 30, is giving back to the organization that helped him go to college.

Bowler's sons, Joseph and Coby, were also volunteers, and it was because of them that Bowler joined in 2003.

Paige Camp started volunteering about five years ago, "after Brynne came to a Town Council meeting and said 'We need new volunteers.'" Camp recently moved to Beaufort, and continues to commute for her Saturday shift.

Calhoun Station once had about 40 to 50 volunteers at a time, Bowler said. They now have only about 18 people who divide their time between the Wednesday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. shifts.

They have had a "massive list" of volunteers over the years, Bowler said, about 40 to 50 at a time. Pervier said about 75% of them have passed on now, and Cahill said about 75% of those were over the age of 75.

The women want people in the community to know they are still in business, although many thought they were closed last year during Town Hall renovations. With a new parking lot completed, there is plenty of room for more customers. And volunteers.

To celebrate the store's 30th birthday, refreshments will be served from 10:30 to 12:30 June 1. The shelves will be stocked with treasures, and additional donations will be accepted.

Anyone wanting to volunteer will be greeted with open arms.

And a 3-year-old might be scooting around the store fixing things.

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