by Chrissy Zehrbach
photography by Jason Cooper
Bag of pretzels, 15 cents. Tub of frosting, 50 cents. Jar of pasta sauce, 99 cents. Bar of soap, 50 cents. Can of soup, 59 cents. And that is just the beginning. One will not find these prices anywhere else, nor will one find a more worthy cause than the David and Margaret Home Bargain Boutique.
This store is owned and operated by the David and Margaret Home. Founded by the United Methodist Women’s group in 1910 as an orphanage, the David and Margaret Home is a residential treatment agency that provides services for troubled teenage girls between the ages 12 and 18.
The Bargain Boutique opened in 1987 in the Whitney Building, a former hotel owned by La Verne resident Henry L. Kuns and now one of the oldest buildings on the campus, to provide additional funding for the organization. It offers discount prices on donated items. This is not a thrift shop; all items are new, with the occasional exception of furniture. Donors vary between large and small companies and franchises, to national and international corporations. “It’s called the best kept secret in La Verne. That’s what I was told, and I hear that all the time,” says Lenette Kruells, store manager.
Since its founding as a church mission agency, the David and Margaret Home has historically received donations based on its needs. Some of the donations go directly to the kitchen, school and cottages to service the needs of the residents. “Every time we need a product, and it has been donated to us, we are able to save dollars in terms of not going out and purchasing the product by simply transferring the inventory into the homes and cottages,” says Gene Graham, director of development.
Donations are made to the Home due to a variety of circumstances. Sometimes a company will overstock an item, or the product will not meet the intended specifications. Other products may be damaged or are close to their expiration dates. These items are then donated to charitable organizations. The idea for the store arose when there were more product contributions arriving than the resident girls could use. There are two full-time staff members, called project developers, who work in the resource department and contact various companies to find those interested in making a contribution. The David and Margaret Home is a registered non-profit organization under the federal tax code, which allows donors to write off their contributions against their corporate taxes.
The Bargain Boutique offers “everything from food to clothes to general merchandise, sundries, jewelry, cosmetics—a variety of things all depending on what we get,” Graham says. “And the really fun part about the Bargain Boutique is that it’s good to come on a regular basis because the product keeps turning over.” Half the store is food products. There is always a wide variety of baked goods and beverages as well as canned, packaged and frozen foods. “We could have our stock change dramatically; there’s really no consistency, which is kind of fun,” Kruells says.
The Bargain Boutique not only deals with retail, but wholesale as well. Wholesale products do not often make it to the David and Margaret Home site to cut down on the hassle of shipping. When a donation is too large or unnecessary for the store, the project developers work with wholesalers and truckers to get that product to another buyer.
All profits directly fund residential programs run on the David and Margaret Home campus. Programs such as The Joan Macy School, The Learning Enhancement Center, The Parent/Teen Project®, anger management, and drug and alcohol intervention programs, as well as other residential treatment programs are only partially funded by county payments, grants and contracts. Additional funding provided by revenue from the store helps keep these programs in operation.
“It makes a difference in our budget of about $1.2 million in terms of gross value every year. It’s an important way for us to underwrite and subsidize what we believe are important programs,” Graham says. “Last year, nearly $600,000 of net revenue from the store went to help underwrite the programs to help the girls in our residential treatment program, foster children and families in our community with therapeutic and educational programs we offer.”
As a part of the vocational skills program at the David and Margaret Home, the residents are given the opportunity to apply for a job. Among other places on campus, the girls have the opportunity to work in the store as a clerk or stocking shelves. This gives them a chance to learn about responsibility and build patterns of adulthood by working everyday and managing their money. “I give them projects, and we don’t hover over them. They’re young adults. I give them responsibilities, and then I expect them to take care of those responsibilities, and they do a really good job,” Kruells says. “I give them opportunities, thankfulness and gratitude, and they realize that they’re important.”
Kruells, who has been working at the store since December 1992, enjoys her job because of the relationships she forms with the girls. “Something definitely keeps me here. And for being here this many years, it’s obviously just not for everyday retail working. It’s different from that. It brings you a lot more,” Kruells says. “I thought that I would only be here for a couple years, but obviously it was too rewarding to let it go. I’ve been lucky to be able to be a part of their lives.” The respect is mutual with the girls. Kruells says she receives countless letters, cards, e-mails and messages from former residents thanking her for the opportunities she gives them. Often times the girls come back to visit and share with her what they have achieved since they left the David and Margaret Home. “We’re taught here to be role models, so the girls will come back after working with me years ago, and they’ll introduce me to their husband or their children, or they’ve just received their master’s degree or moved into being career-minded women. That is something that you can’t replace, and you can’t buy that. Knowing that you touched their lives in a way is something that I’ll never forget,” Kruells adds.
The David and Margaret Home has never used any outside advertising for the Bargain Boutique. The organization believes word of mouth is the best form of advertising, given its non-profit status. “I think you will see us advertise more as we’re comfortable that it doesn’t create competition for businesses in the community who do not have the advantage of our non-profit status and of our donated products,” Graham adds. “People certainly tell their friends when they know there are good deals at the Bargain Boutique. We think what brings them back is that there’s really a turnover of product. We encourage people to come back on a regular basis when new clothes come out, or new product on the food side,” Graham says.
Despite the lack of advertising, the Bargain Boutique is immensely successful. Customers patronize the store on a regular basis. Even on a weekday, in the middle of the afternoon, the store is flooded with customers. Waiting at the register is a long line of customers—whose carts are overflowing with the bargains of the day, while countless other customers browse through the products. The weekends are even busier. “You walk in on a Saturday, and you would think that the other stores in the community were closed,” Kruells says about how busy the store can be. Besides, why would someone not want to shop at a store that offers products at prices cheaper than all major supermarkets and the ever popular 99 cent stores? “People are so excited and so interested in what we do here and are very anxious to find out what we have in the store. That just kind of blossomed into repeat customers,” Kruells says. “I guarantee you I know quite a few of the customers by name. People like to have that extra interest and friendship. They want to be acknowledged; people don’t like to be ignored.”
Take Covina resident Barbara Miller, who heard about the store from members of her church and has been shopping here for just over a year. “Their stock is always rotating, and if you like what they have, you’ll find really good prices,” Miller says. “Plus, the profits go toward programs to help the girls who live there; it’s a good community outreach program.”
Regardless of its popularity, the David and Margaret Home believes the Bargain Boutique would be even more successful if the customers did not have to climb the several small flights of stairs to get to the store. “They didn’t anticipate the store becoming so popular, so we don’t have any access down ramps or anything to get the carts down the staircase. We usually will help the customers,” Kruells says.
The David and Margaret Home is currently in the planning process of building a new store facility on campus that will be more accessible. While planning to expand the store in the future, Kruells says she appreciates its current success. “It’s pretty interesting. It’s a different kind of business, but it’s very rewarding.”
The David and Margaret home is located at 1350 Third St. The Bargain Boutique is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. It is closed Sunday and Monday.