After 40 Years, St. Christopher's To Close Consignment Shop

By: Elizabeth Van Wye

St. Christopher's Consignment Shop in the late 1970s when it was located in the building now housing the Red Nun. COURTESY PHOTO

CHATHAM – The pandemic has taken an enormous toll on small businesses everywhere, and the St. Christopher's Gift and Consignment Shop on Main Street in Chatham is no exception. After more than 40 years in business the shop will close its doors for good at the end of July.

The decision to close was the result of a number of factors, according to Pam Hufnagel, a member of the church vestry committee which made the difficult decision to close the shop. In recent years, as consignment and thrift shops popped up all over the Cape, recruiting and keeping volunteers became more difficult. Rent and salary expenses increased as well. The final straw was the arrival of COVID-19 and the subsequent health concerns that affected both the manager and the pool of volunteers, most of whom were in the high risk category.

A final sale starts this week, when the shop will be opened from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays through July 31. Donations will be accepted through July 22.

Over the years, the shop, known for its high-end clothing, estate and sterling silver jewelry and collectibles, became "a community of friendship, with wonderful customers and consignors," said Hufnagel. It served a number of purposes besides raising funds, she added. "It was a good cause for the church but it was also socialization, meeting new people, new customers and having conversations."

Between 50 and 75 volunteers worked various jobs to support the shop, including cashier, scheduler, pricer and more. Volunteers like Ella Leavitt designed the display windows to attract passing customers. "Whoever had talent, we were happy to utilize," Hufnagle said. "That's what makes this even more difficult."

On an average summer day, the shop was typically staffed with three volunteers for each of two three-hour shifts. Volunteers were mostly women, but not exclusively so, and some were not members of St. Christopher’s but just enjoyed volunteering there.

Winnie Lear, whose parents Charlie and Winifred Shepard were among the founding members of the church in the 1960s, started volunteering for the shop when she moved back to Chatham 12 years ago. Thursday morning was her assigned shift. "I enjoyed meeting people. It was the people I worked with and the people who came in. There were strangers vacationing in the summer and some who came in every year."

"Thursday was the day the consigners came in," she recalled, "and we got to know them too."

The shop opened in 1975 on Main Street and by 1976 had relocated to the "red farmhouse that is now the Red Nun," according to longtime volunteer and former manager Priscilla Chick. By 1979 the shop had moved back onto the church property on Main Street, where it operated successfully until 2008.

Barbara Cromarty became the volunteer manager then and oversaw the move to the space at the rear of the Orpheum Theater, its current location. By 2015 the job had grown and a paid manager was needed, and Cromarty continued on as a volunteer, most recently also responsible for pricing all the items in the shop. "I would go to other thrift shops and do research," she said with a laugh, adding it was important "to know what people want to pay."

"I always needed to be busy and I felt this was the best way to continue on after retirement," she said of her 24 years volunteering with the shop. "I will miss it very much," she added.

During the brief store opening in July, facemasks as well as social distancing will be required. Only eight customers will be allowed in the store at a time and dressing rooms will be closed. All sales will be final. For more information go to www.stchristopherschatham.org/consignment-shop.

Hufnagel reflected on the shop's role in the church and the community.

"The camaraderie and community developed by the volunteers who worked at the shop over the years will be sorely missed," she wrote. "We thank the many volunteers, consignors, donors and customers who sustained the shop and made it a success over its long lifetime."