Kidney Disease Survivor Gives Back Through Thrift Shop

By: Ellen Chahey

Mike Werbick started the Lucky Day Thrift Shop in West Harwich after recovering from a kidney transplant, and plans to donate a percentage of profits to help others going through the same ordeal. ELLEN C. CHAHEY PHOTO

Mike Werbick’s lucky day came when a kidney donor was found for him. It happened to be his wife.

Now, with his life spared by the transplant on Sept. 15, 2015, he wants to give back. And that is why you’ll now find the Lucky Day Thrift Shop at 16 Route 28, West Harwich, just before the Dennisport line. It’s been open since the end of May.

The shop doesn’t operate on the donation-and-or-consignment model familiar to other thrift shops at churches and non-profits throughout the Cape. Instead, it’s a small business for Werbick, who has an extensive background in retail. He won’t even accept donations or consignments, but instead scouts estate sales, cleanouts, auctions, even other thrift shops in search of interesting things to sell.

And once the shop starts turning a profit, his goal is to give 15 percent to a fund for transplant patients at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, where his transplant occurred. The fund, administered by social workers, provides for the immediate needs of patients such as transportation and food.

A walk around the small shop revealed a place jam-packed with fun stuff: an old sewing machine, nearly new designer baby clothes, furniture, Barbie dolls still in boxes, VHS tapes of highbrow movies (“usually I have Disney,” Werbick quips), books (“they sell fast – we’re in a beach area”), boots, sports collectables, clocks, motorcycle helmets, furniture, frames, dishes, brand new inflatable rafts, and more. A stunning set of tiger sculptures stood guard.

“I’ve seen them on eBay for hundreds of dollars,” he said. The place has a nice neutral clean smell; all clothing is washed.

Most of his merchandise, Werbick said, comes from off-Cape auctions. “I buy it in lots, so a lot of times I don’t know exactly what I’ve bought until I get it home and open it. You take the good with the bad, and I make a lot of trips to the dump.”

Werbick was born in Chicago and has lived as far afield as Phoenix and Colorado. His alma mater is Arizona State University and then his work for such chains as CVS, Kohl’s, Linens and Things, and Toys R Us took him and his wife on their trek. But she is from Massachusetts, and when he got seriously ill with kidney disease they decided it would be good to move near to her family.

He was on dialysis for a while, but it wasn’t going to be enough for the degree of kidney failure Werbick was experiencing. “I still liked living,” he said, “but I was cranky.” His body was swollen with tens of pints of fluids and toxins that his kidneys could not process.

His wife, April, really wanted to give him a kidney but it is a long journey from the wish to the reality. Several blood and tissue factors have to match, and both donor and recipient must pass physical requirements. Even though they are husband and wife, their medical information was kept strictly confidential from each other, and April was repeatedly asked if she was pursuing the donation of her own free will. “They want to make sure that there is no coercion involved,” said Werbick.

Once the transplant had kicked in successfully and Werbick was feeling better, April suggested the idea of a thrift shop, because he could set his own hours and be his own boss. Although she has a job of her own, she helps out at the Lucky Day by pricing the clothes, with none selling for more than $10.

Right now, Werbick opens the shop Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. How’s it going? “Last Sunday, I made enough for a week’s worth of rent,” he said. A customer came in while he was giving an interview, and, having given a whoop of pleasure at finding something she wanted, approached the front desk to pay for it. He was happy to accept her credit card.

By the cash register is a small sign that explains the transplant center. Kidney disease is “terrifying,” said Werbick, who added that he has seen some 25 to 30 people die of it. “I want to raise awareness” of how serious the disease is and how important transplants are, he said.

Werbick clearly feels grateful for his lucky day, and his aim now is to help make such a day possible for others. “I don’t care what your religion is,” he said, “Karma exists.”

LuckyDayThrift.com is the store’s website. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center’s site is bidmc.org. The store supports the hospital’s Social Work Transplant Fund.