By 9:30 a.m. Saturday morning, the parking lot is crowded with shoppers ready to descend on one of St. Croix’s most popular places: the St. Croix Animal Welfare Center Flea Market.
For over 20 years, the thrift store has been the fundraising backbone of the shelter – and now more than ever – they want it to be the first place people go when shopping for a bargain.
With the fumbling economy, recent utility rate hikes, and the overhead costs of renting the 5000 square foot warehouse, the flea market is hardly making the impact they need to support the animals.
As shoppers crowded the store looking for the best deal of the day, volunteers rushed around pushing clothes racks out, sweeping, and stocking the shelves full of newly donated items. Several customers are regulars, coming in three to four times a day to get their fix.
“We like to help the animals and it’s the best place you can go to get a bargain,” one customer said.
“We would love for people to shop here all day,” Store Manger, Eliza Schierloh, said. “It’s really a great place to shop, but it takes a lot of work. We would like more funds to go to the shelter to help defray from the overhead costs of the building.”
The flea market is set up like any thrift store: all of the items for sale have been donated by members of the community.
With used and designer clothing, accessories, kids’ outfits, furniture, kitchen and household items, the store is rife with bargains.
Additionally, the book store has been called the “best-kept secret” on St. Croix. Volunteer Habiba Evans dedicates three days a week to ensure that it remains one of the top book stores around.
Since the mid-eighties, Evans has been volunteering in some capacity, and keeping the books stocked and well-displayed has become her modus operandi.
“There are three main reasons I like working here: I love books, I like putting books into the hands of readers, and the libraries on the island are not really serious places for readers,” Evans said.
“A good library,” Evans continued, “reflects the seriousness of a community, and I would like to think the book store here provides serious materials for people who love to read.”
Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., bargain hunters and animal lovers can load their baskets full of discounted items. For a mere few bucks, someone can buy a full outfit with shoes and accessories.
Schierloh and the volunteers keep the digs clean and orderly so that shoppers can find their hidden treasures.
One volunteer, who preferred to remain unnamed, came in a decade ago and realized the Center needed help. Every Saturday, she hustles around non-stop beautifying the place.
“During the week I use the right side of my brain doing science and technical stuff, and on Saturdays I use the left side of my brain,” she said. “I love animals, and I find it difficult to work at the shelter, but here there’s no downside. I can come shop, I help the animals, and I get to use my creative side.”
Marjorie Gilbert is another dedicated volunteer who has been working in some capacity since the shelter opened in 1973, and says she comes mostly because it’s good therapy.
“I just volunteer to help the cause and I like animals,” Gonzalo Rivera said, who donates his time nearly every day of the week.
According to the St. Croix Animal Welfare Center Executive Director, Gretchen Sherril, the flea market contributes up to 20 percent of the shelter’s overall operating budget.
“The flea market is an essential revenue source for keeping the Animal Welfare Center in business,” Sherril said.
Without the flea market the shelter would not operate to the degree that they currently do, Sherril said. For example, the shelter provides animal pick-ups of owned pets at no charge. If at any time an owner decides they no longer want their pet, the shelter will pick the animal up for free. Additionally, they offer discounted microchips, a transfer program for pets going stateside, and euthanasia.
The flea market prides itself on trying to become a “green-friendly” business. They collect and reuse plastic bags and newspapers, and participate in recycling e-waste, when it’s accidentally donated.
The St. Croix Animal Welfare Center Flea Market is located at 151 Richmond (just east of Olympic car rental). They are always looking for hard-working and dedicated volunteers, and can be reached at 340-692-5355.