New thrift store rejuvenates Cowichan Family Life

Cowichan Family Life’s boutique thrift store opened on Canada Avenue just in time to save non-profit’s counselling services. - Ann Andersen
Cowichan Family Life’s boutique thrift store opened on Canada Avenue just in time to save non-profit’s counselling services.
— image credit: Ann Andersen

Who would have thought that Cowichan Family Life — struggling last fall to stay afloat — would be thriving today?

And it's all because of a new boutique thrift store on Canada Avenue.

"There's little doubt we'd have had to close our doors if we hadn't opened the store," says Cowichan Family Life executive director Maureen Gallinger, as we sit at a for-sale table in the airy, prettily designed shop interior.

"The only funds we had — our contingency fund — had almost run out."

During the past few years a drop in ministry and other grants smacked the 42-year-old non-profit hard. Its overall budget dropped in five years from $700,000 that included a $300,000 MCFD contract to barely survivable levels.

"We were almost ready to close."

But, since opening Dec. 12, proceeds from thrift store sales have put $12,000 into CFL coffers.

"The board decided to go back to the organization's roots — however long it takes," Gallinger says.

CFL was formed in 1969 and registered as a society in March 1970. It was formed with the vision that counselling is for everyone and should be affordable; and that the average person could learn counselling skills to help with current issues.

"Now we're back to concentrating on working with kids 0 to 12 and peer counselling for adults," confirms Gallinger.

The volunteer counselling component at the CFL office at 28 - 127 Ingram has been strengthened. There are 20 active counsellors. Practicum placement students studying for their Masters in counselling psychology offer their services, too.

"Six weeks — that's how long it took to put the store together," Gallinger explains. "We had $400 in our pockets to do it."

Thanks to landlords Lynn and Rick Guthrie and the goodwill of community organizations, individuals and businesses "too numerous to list" the CFL thrift store opened Dec. 12.

Gallinger has warm words for the late Veronika Nicholson who called and offered to help set up the store's interior.

"She helped with the design, how to hang clothes, and told us how high the racks should be."

Nicholson even supplied the chandelier that hangs above the tastefully placed clothes, shoes, knickknacks and oddities that make up the front room of the store. Scattered shoes and artistically hung accessories and merchandise complete the boutique atmosphere. Customers browse racks, tables and shelves.

Further back in the 2,000-square-foot store are children's clothes, men's wear, bags, kitchenware and books. There's even a kitchen, washer and dryer on site.

There's free bread from the Bread Van, free books for children under six and clothes that go on the community resource bus to six local communities.

"We take donations anytime we're open."

"If two ladies can pick it up and put it in the back of an SUV, we accept the donation," she laughs.

"It's a social enterprise. The revenue source is reciprocal to the community," she says. "We wanted to do something a bit different, so we created the boutique look."

"So far, it's been really successful. We've hit the targets we set."

Gallinger is managing the store until it gets to the point when CFL can hire a paid manager, she says. "We're building a team of volunteers."

The store is located two doors down from Coffee on the Moon. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.


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