LITTLETON — Walk down the bustling Main Street of Littleton and you'll find an intriguing variety of colorful, unique shops. Down the hill and around the corner on Lower Main Street, you'll find a small shop quietly making a difference in the community.
Little City Thrift Store is fueled by clothing, housewares and jewelry donations from the community, and its profits are given to local charities.
Founder Karen Bronson discovered her first thrift store when she lived in Portland, Ore.
“I grew up here and they just weren't around,” she said. “I fell in love with the whole idea of them.”
She decided she wanted a store of her own. Her criteria: The store had to be bright and interesting, and the proceeds had to make a difference in the lives of local people.
In 2010, her husband found a basement shop for rent. The space had only one light fixture and few electrical outlets, but the size was right.
Bronson's husband did electrical work, her son installed drywall, and others pitched in to clean and paint the former warehouse space.
Bronson estimated they spent about $600 — all other labor and materials were donated.
To fill the store for opening day, her son sent out a call for donations on Facebook and the family worked as a team to sort, price and display items.
On Oct. 6, 2010, Bronson decided it was time, so with the last of her money going to stock the cash register, she put the “open” sign out front.
She made $30 that day.
“I'm going, 'Oh God, this isn't going to make it, we're not going to make rent,'” she said. “But it (grew) a little bit at a time, and now we're entering our second summer.”
One reason for Little City's success is its boutique-like atmosphere. Neatly sorted clothing, purses and jewelry hang among whimsical signs and eye-catching displays. Jazz music plays in the background.
“I tried to take stuff I like about thrift stores, about shops in general, and bring it to this shop,” Bronson said.
Two months after opening, Bronson met her second criteria by helping a young family who had tragically lost a parent.
Since then, Little City has contributed more than $4,000 to a wide range of causes, including YMCA soccer, music and library programs, animal rescues, food pantries and individual families.
Bronson said donated items sometimes go directly to recipients. For instance, a recently donated flute was given to a local child, with any needed repairs included.
“I don't have a bureaucracy or this hard and fast set of rules,” Bronson said. “If someone needs something and I have it, I'm very happy to give it.”
Her only guideline is keeping donations local and individualized. She said she feels her donations have greater impact in a smaller, personal setting.
For Bronson, that's the whole point — help the community by providing clothing and housewares at a discount, and fulfill needs with donations.
“It's exceeded my expectations,” she said. “It didn't happen overnight, but I feel like it's evolving into something really, really great.”
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Kristi Garofalo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.