Ermel’s Emporium Thrift Shoppe celebrates 20th anniversary

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Little store offers best prices in town while it helps those in need

by Patty Unruh

Ermel’s Emporium Thrift Shoppe is a Gilpin County institution known for its unique items, bargain prices, and service to those who need a helping hand. The little shop seems to have been around forever. Believe it or not, according to official Ermel’s records, it’s really been in operation for “only” 20 years, having begun in February 1999.

The community is invited to share in a special anniversary event at Ermel’s on Thursday, February 28, Friday, March 1, and Saturday, March 2 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Cupcakes and punch will be served, and a special drawing will be held each day for a $25 gift certificate. The address is 111 Eureka Street in Central City.

This reporter stopped in on Monday, February 4, to browse around and talk with the friendly volunteers who were hard at work as usual, cleaning and organizing the items. Willy Lickey, Diane Martin, and Sharon Bell filled me in on 20 years of Ermel’s service to the community and took me on a tour of the thrift shop, including the “volunteer command central” room in the back.

As I entered, I noticed the bulletin board near the door advertising upcoming community events. Free Bibles, religious tracts, and literature were available at the front desk, and a small Salvation Army container was handy for contributions. A note advised that 90 percent of those donations stay in Gilpin County.

The shop is operated by St. James United Methodist Church. In addition to offering pre-owned treasures at very low prices, the store has some free items and also offers special goods at holiday times. It is run entirely by volunteers who are members of the church and the community. The church makes no profit, and donors receive no portion from any sales. All money goes back into the community.

Donors include Gilpin regulars and folks from Georgetown, Evergreen, Denver, and even Wyoming.

The idea for the thrift store was originally that of a former St. James pastor, Rev. Pete Meese, and of Ray Wilber.

“It started as a junk store and evolved,” Lickey, a 13-year volunteer, noted. “We get lots more donations now, and the items are nicer than what we received during the first ten years.”

The shop started with just one room. Then the display space was doubled to include an adjacent room. Just upstairs from the second room was the old print office of the Weekly Register-Call. There is also a room for volunteers to sort, clean, and price items. St. James rents the thrift shop space from Central City’s Masonic Lodge #6.

Ermel’s offers a host of household goods, all at prices so low it’s totally amazing. Patrons commonly remark, “How nice the store looks, and how clean it is!” “You have the best prices in town!” “If this place wasn’t here, we’d have to ‘go below!’”

Funds raised from goods sold go to help Gilpin residents with needs, such as medical expenses, rent, or other bills. Martin, who has served for 14 years, interviews people who are requesting help and presents their needs to Ermel’s board of directors, which is comprised of members of St. James. The limit that can be distributed to someone is $750 per fiscal year, and there is a lifetime limit of $2,500.

Browsers can get some good deals that aren’t to be surpassed, even at Goodwill. When I was there, hardback books were on sale for 50 cents, nice wooden end tables for $6.00, video games for just $1.00, and silverware for 10 cents per piece.

You name it, Ermel’s has it, including bedding, bath, and beyond. Clothing, sunglasses, vintage gloves and hankies, record albums, lamps, jewelry, books in all genres, framed prints, knick-knacks, sheet music, DVDs from Disney to Shakespeare, small appliances like a power juicer, food grinder, or ice shaver, cookware, candles, curling irons, tote bags, party supplies, photo albums, stationery, curtains, office supplies, pet needs, kids’ stuffed animals, toys and books, sports equipment, and craft items.

“We get some of the nicer brand name items, too, and sell those for $3.00 to $12.00,” noted Martin.

Some items are truly upscale. Just this week, a donor brought in a landscape painting by Longmont artist Becky Everitt that originally sold for $425. It was a wonderful buy at Ermel’s for only $200.

A medical closet holds walkers, crutches, and blood pressure equipment. These supplies are handled by volunteer Sharon Perea, who makes them available to Gilpin senior citizens or offers them to Dr. Michael Camarata of Nederland for his patients.

Biggest sellers include dollar clothing and name brand items, kitchen ware, and men’s favorites – tools, plumbing, and electrical supplies.

The store also has “five-dollar bag days,” where patrons can stuff a plastic kitchen trash bag with all the end-of-season clothes they can carry for only $5.00. Ermel’s even supplies the bags. The next five-dollar bag day will be in April or May.

There is plenty of work to keep the current staff of 26 volunteers busy. Sharon Bell goes through the clothes, washes them, makes sure there are no rips, and hangs them up. She organizes flannel shirts, hoodies, jeans, sweaters, skirts, dress clothing, and suit jackets of all colors and fabrics. Accessories include scarves, purses, shoes, and caps. Clothes that are not used are sent over to Nederland’s thrift store or to Goodwill.

“We also send some to Mexico. Sharon Perea coordinates getting the clothes to the beach people there,” Lickey advised.

Volunteers test items to make sure they work, clean them, and price them according to their condition. They stock shelves, clean the store, and decorate the windows. Lickey organizes seasonal items, too.

“She has bins for every season and prices them before she puts them away. When it’s time to get those items out, they are ready to go!” Martin stated.

Sharon Bell schedules the volunteers. Everyone does at least one shift per month, and many do more shifts. Some of the husbands get involved, lending manpower to move heavy items or helping during the busy Christmas season. The busiest days are Thursdays in the summer, when opera matinee patrons stop in. Two volunteers are scheduled for those times.

The newest volunteers have served for a year or two, and several have served 15, 18, or even 20 years, including those who were part of the original group. Willy Lickey and former volunteer Diane Rittenhouse (now deceased) were honored for their dedication a few years back with a Denver Channel 7 Everyday Hero award.

Volunteering at Ermel’s holds a special appeal to those who serve.

Lickey said, “I enjoy meeting all the people and finding out where they are from. We get some interesting things, including store close-outs – some brand-new purses with the price tags on them. People can see they are getting a good deal!”

“We have a good group of women who care about each other and work hard,” Martin said. “Willy is a slave driver,” she joked, “but well organized! Our prices are amazing – people can’t believe how low they are.”

She quoted Sharon Perea: “Sharon always says, ‘If the right person comes along, they’ll pay the price.’” Which is low.

Winter hours are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and summer hours are the same days from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Ermel’s is not able to accept donations of computer desks, any furniture larger than a recliner, televisions, computers and printers, monitors, skis and boots, exercise equipment, encyclopedias, cribs and mattresses.


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