For the past 35 years, week in and week out, Minnie Bartlett of Black Mountain has worked at the same store here in town. Since starting her job in 1981, she has never gotten a raise. She gets no health benefits, no paid vacation, no sick leave. She will never draw a pension. She’s never even been paid the minimum wage.
Even so, asked if she has any plans of retiring, Bartlett, who turns 87 years old this week, answered swiftly. “No-o-o-o-o-o!” she said emphatically.
Bartlett may seem like the frugal sort, but she sheepishly admits to one extravagance. “I only wear name-brand clothes,” she said.
In fact, on the day she was interviewed for this story, she was wearing a very becoming suit and coordinating blouse. With a twinkle in her eyes she whispered the secret for her stellar look.
“I paid $5 for the suit, and $3 for the blouse!” she said.
Bartlett buys all of her clothes at Black Mountain’s Kiwanis Thrift Store, where she runs the cash register as a volunteer every Wednesday morning and the first and fifth Saturday mornings of the month.
At last Thursday’s regular weekly meeting at the Christmount Dining Hall, the Kiwanis Club of Black Mountain-Swannanoa honored her and 39 other non-Kiwanis member volunteers who help out in the Thrift Store four hours a week. The volunteers help 30 of the club’s members who pitch in weekly to sort donated items, hang clothes, price items, stock shelves, staff the cash register, help customers and perform a myriad of other tasks out front and in the back room.
Thanks to the volunteers and everyone who donates clothing and other goods, the store raised about $200,000 last year to give to schools and charities to benefit children in the Swannanoa Valley, store manager John Palmer said. The club doesn’t have to recruit outside volunteers, he said. “They just walk in the door and ask if they can help.” Additional volunteers are always welcome, he said.
Though she donates her time, the store pays Bartlett some very personal dividends.
“It is my social life,” she said. “There are people who come in the store just to talk to me.”
She added proudly that three of her grandsons have received Kiwanis scholarships to help them with their college education. She said she has enjoyed every day of her 35 years at the store - except one.
One day a Northerner complained that she was slow in giving him his change for his purchase.
“He called me a ‘slow Southerner,’” Bartlett recalled. “I told him I was proud of it!”