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VOL. 126 | NO. 28 | Thursday, February 10, 2011

Blues City Thrift to Bring New Retail Concept to Memphis

STACEY WIEDOWER | Special to The Daily News

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It was the convergence of two very different needs that brought transplanted Memphians Amy Hoyt and Peter Baur together, but now the pair is working toward a single goal: the launch of Blues City Thrift.

The concept thrift store, which the pair hopes to open this summer, will operate with the sole mission of providing funding for area nonprofits.

Hoyt, who managed the Metropolitan Interfaith Association, or MIFA, store before it closed in October, was bothered by the absence in Memphis of thrift stores whose proceeds benefit local organizations.

Baur, who a decade ago was trying to drum up ways to raise funds for his work in the Philadelphia nonprofit sector, landed on the idea of creating a thrift store that would benefit all types of nonprofit groups.

Baur’s brother, Paul Baur, took the idea and ran with it. Within six months, he’d sold his business and launched Impact Thrift, a three-store organization that doles out $20,000 per month to about 17 Philly-area charities. In 2010 the group donated its millionth dollar to nonprofit groups.

When he moved to Memphis to serve as director of admission and events at Westminster Academy, Peter Baur began exploring the idea of launching a similar mission in his new city.

“I thought we would start with Westminster Academy and at least two other charities, and hopefully, at some point, add more,” he said.

Out of that hope, Blues City Thrift was born. Along with supporting tuition assistance at Westminster, the organization plans initially to use its proceeds to support Church Health Center and Youth Leadership Memphis.

Hoyt was hired as director of business development for the emerging enterprise, which is raising funds and scouting sites in hopes of a summer opening. She considers herself uniquely suited for her new role.

“I have a thrifting gene,” said Hoyt, who moved to Memphis from her native Iowa in 2009. “I’m a thrift store aficionado.”

She’s also built her career in the nonprofit sector. However, she’d never considered turning her thrifting hobby into a career until the opportunity to manage the MIFA store surfaced in early 2010.

“Everything fell into place with MIFA,” she said. “Who ever would think of a career in nonprofit thrift stores? But it’s just perfect. This is truly my vocation.”

Startup funding for Blues City Thrift is coming through a number of individual donors. While raising funds and working toward the store’s launch, the startup team is seeking a 10,000- to 15,000-square-foot space to house the store. Hoyt also is collecting and sorting the store’s initial inventory.

“I intend to break the mold with thrift stores,” she said. “Thrift stores have bad reputations. They’re not palatable to the masses. At (Blues City Thrift) everything will be clean and weeded and curated. It’s going to be top-quality merchandise.”

Baur said at Impact Thrift in Philadelphia, typically the store uses only 20 percent to 25 percent of items donated.

“We’re looking to create an experience for the shopper where they will come in and see only items they wouldn’t hesitate to purchase,” he said. “No rips, no tears, no stains. We want to create a retail environment that’s well-lit, well-organized and sells high-quality items ranging from bric-a-brac and furniture to clothing, electronics, books and jewelry.”

Hoyt said items donated that are not sold at Blues City Thrift will be passed on to other charitable groups or recycled for another use.

“I hate throwing things in the Dumpster,” she said. “Everything that is usable we’re going to donate to other charities that can use it. And even with our trash – I have a few artist friends who I know could make things out of it.”

The organization plans to keep its carbon footprint light in other ways, as well. Blues City Thrift won’t use plastic bags. And when it settles into a location, its fixtures will be recycled from other shuttered businesses, including the former MIFA store and former Laurelwood boutique Zoe.

The latter, Hoyt said, donated its fixtures to the enterprise.

“She had several iconic pieces, including fixtures made by the Ornamental Metal Museum,” she said. “There will be people who will recognize these pieces, so there’s a little bit of Memphis history in it.”

Hoyt said Blues City Thrift will likely employ 10 to 15 people.

“I’ve been developing my own guidelines for sorting, so I’m hoping to find more staff like me, people who love thrift stores and are familiar with them and have the ‘thrifting gene,’” she said.

The startup team is seeking a location in the city with space for a sorting area, a back dock for receipt of donations and, of course, retail space. Along with accepting drop-offs at the store when it opens, Blues City Thrift will establish drop-off locations at the charities it sponsors. Hoyt also is operating “pop-up shops” at various organizations and events as the team works to get the store off the ground.

Baur said he hopes to have Blues City Thrift up and running within six months, preferably in a standalone location.

“My brother has found in Philadelphia that these tend to be destination stores,” he said. “We want to find something that gives us the greatest chance of success as quickly as possible.”

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