GREENFIELD — For years, shoppers at the WEARhouse Thrift Store made their way through dark, cramped aisles, searching for treasures in a space that felt more like a storage unit than a store.
Today, the WEARhouse thrift store is almost twice its original size, having expanded from 5,500 to 8,000 square feet, the result of a six-month project that recently concluded. Proceeds from the store, 35 E. Pierson St., currently fund more than half of costs to operate Hancock Hope House, the city’s only homeless shelter; with the expansion, leaders hope to increase that number.
The store, which is open to the public but also provides clothes and other goods to those living in the shelter, is located in the same building as the Hope House.
By transforming former storage areas into retail space and adding shelves to display gently used items for sale, volunteers and staff created a more-welcoming shopping experience, Hancock Hope House executive director Carl Denny said.
Denny said staff members realized they were using more space than necessary to store seasonal items and supplies for the shelter.
The WEARhouse’s expansion also features a new boutique area, a special room set aside especially for higher-end clothing items for women — designer clothes and shoes, often with the tags still on, Denny said, at a fraction of full price.
“We wanted to offer more and make more usable space,” he said. “This store is a way for the working poor in our community to have nice things.”
Hope House and WEARhouse staff and volunteers are already noticing more visitors to the store since its expansion, Denny said, who estimated they’ve seen a 35 percent increase in foot traffic.
Kathy Secrest of Greenfield said she and her sister often shop at the WEARhouse — she believes it’s the best store in Greenfield.
She comes to the store for the variety, saying it’s not unusual to see new items on the shelves with every visit.
Maintaining a shelter that is partly self-funded has long been the goal for staff at the Hope House; with the expansion, the shelter should be even less reliant on grants and community donations, Denny said.
The store currently covers 55 percent of costs to keep the shelter open; community donations fund 35 percent, and the remainder comes from small grants and funding requests, Denny said.
That mission is furthered by a core group of dedicated volunteers who man the store, Denny said.
Shirley Conant of Greenfield can often be found behind the register, wearing a colorful WEARhouse T-shirt and a smile.
Conant, who has been volunteering there for more than three years, said the store’s alterations have changed it drastically — and for the better.
The store’s more open floor plan makes it easier for cashiers to keep an eye on customers and provide assistance whenever it’s needed, she said. Video monitoring of the store, also a recent addition, is another way store volunteers can keep vigilant.
The Hope House was established in 1991; it can house 35 individuals, including 20 people in family-style rooms, and 15 men in an open dormitory-style area.
People who stay at the shelter are provided with vouchers to the thrift store, so they can select clothing for job interviews or whatever they might need, Denny said.
Denny is proud to say the shelter has never charged its residents a fee for staying there, and despite the huge overhead costs of maintaining the former warehouse, Hancock Hope House plans to never charge a fee to residents, he said.
Self-sufficiency is the main goal for the residents, as well as the shelter itself, Denny said. Residents must be working or seriously seeking work, and they are required to prepare their own meals and do chores in their spaces and the communal living areas. Residents must also save 75 percent of their income and work on getting out of debt.
“It’s very important to us to be sure our residents are paying taxes and adding value to the community,” Denny said.
35: people the Hope House can shelter each night
55: percent of the Hope House’s costs the Wearhouse funds
120: square feet in a family room at the Hancock Hope House
4,500: nights of shelter and security provided in 2015
5,863: people without a home in Indiana on a day in 2015
8,000: square feet dedicated to the Wearhouse Thrift Store
Source: Carl Denny, Hope House executive director, and Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority