Sissy Baldwin, a volunteer with Calhoun Station thrift shop for about 10 years, helps a customer with jewelry on a recent Wednesday afternoon at the store. More volunteers are needed to keep the store running. PHOTOS BY LYNNE COPE HUMMELL

Times are tough these days – and Calhoun Station, Bluffton’s first and oldest thrift shop, is in trouble due to a string of challenges over the past few years. The volunteer management is urgently sounding the alarm to ask the community for help.

Calhoun Station Thrift opened 31 years ago. The Bluffton icon is unique because it is 100% volunteer-run, with the sole purpose of raising money for charity.

Calhoun Station is not affiliated with any church or business, said manager Linda Collins. They have fulfilled their mission for 31 years by giving 100% of the money raised, estimated at $1.2 million, to local nonprofit organizations like Meals on Wheels, Volunteers in Medicine, Memory Matters, Bluffton Self Help, and just about every other charity in the area.

Because they have no paid staff and small overhead costs, they offer grants twice a year.

In their heyday, about 30 committed volunteers were on the roster to operate the shop. Today there are only eight, and two of those will be retiring soon. Collins said that longstanding volunteers have left due to illness, relocation, and the inability to lift, sort and stand for long periods due to aging.

“We are desperate for reliable volunteers and we especially need some men to help with heavy work,” Collins said.

Traditionally, the shop has been open three days a week from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., but Collins said they are now down to two days, Wednesday and Saturday, and that has reduced their income. “We would love to open on Fridays again, but we just don’t have the manpower.”

Volunteers are needed for three-hour shifts and can sign up for a regular day each week, every other week, or even once a month. “If serious volunteers just want to come in to work the cash register, or clean donated dishware, that would be wonderful,” she said. 

Other duties include unpacking donations, pressing clothes and putting them on racks and assisting customers. A few men are needed to help in the shed that houses equipment and tools and to handle some heavier lifting.

Collins said they would love to have husbands and wives who can work together, volunteers who can bring a buddy to sign up, or teens who might want or need to complete community service hours.

Board members are also urgently needed. The current remaining volunteers also serve as board members. They are looking for committed people with all types of business experience, but are particularly in need of those with experience in finance and marketing. Their current treasurer and secretary will soon be retiring.

Collins stressed that unless they can recruit enough volunteers, they will be forced to close their doors in December.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been another challenge for Calhoun Station because they were forced to close for months. Now that they are open, the thrift shop is taking every precaution to keep both volunteers and visitors safe.

Masks are required and the number of customers at one time will be limited as needed to ensure social distancing. Sanitation is also taken seriously.

However, the pandemic was not the beginning of the challenges faced by Calhoun Station.

Hurricane Matthew battered the community as a whole in 2016 and caused Calhoun Station to close for nearly one and a half years. Their site, owned by the Town of Bluffton, was forever changed after the hurricane destroyed the barns used to store and sell furniture, tools and large items.

In 2018-19, the town, which has long had offices in another side of the building, underwent a remodel of its section, and expanded and repaved the parking lot. The construction project delayed the re-opening of the shop for another 18 months.

Unfortunately, it also that meant that the barns could be replaced with just one small shed, so they lost the capacity to continue selling furniture – their highest income producer.   

While the recruitment of volunteers is their highest priority, the long-range needs are to solve their space problems. Collins isn’t sure at this point what options there are, but down the road, the board of directors might want to explore various options and solutions.

Anyone interested in volunteering, donating gently used clothing and other items, or inquiring about other ways to help this iconic Bluffton organization can call 843-757-5191 or visit Calhoun Station at 77 Pritchard St. on Wednesdays or Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Edwina Hoyle is a freelance writer in Bluffton.