Store strengthens bond between school and community

Fred McCormick

Creativity is a key tenet at ArtSpace Charter School, where the mission statement encourages community service and responsible citizenship.

And perhaps nowhere do those ideals converge more than they do at the school’s 2nd Act Thrift & Gift Shop, which celebrated its grand opening with the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce on April 20. The shop is in the parking lot adjacent to ArtSpace, located on U.S. 70.

Josh Batenhorst, the enterprise and development manager at the school, is no stranger to the funding demands of charter schools, which are tuition-free and funded on a per-student basis by the state. But the schools do not receive government money for facilities, so Batenhorst finds himself routinely pondering ways to generate sustainable funding for the school.

“We have to do a lot of fundraising in order to keep up the facility we have and do some improvements,” he said. “We’ve got dreams of having a gym some day, because the kids really need that outlet. This (the shop) is one of the things that we hope can help fund some of that.”

The idea to use funding from a thrift store to benefit a school is not particularly unique. But Robin Allred’s approach to running the day-to-day operations will help set the store apart from others, she believes. She is the community partnerships and volunteer coordinator for the school.

“I started a thrift store when I worked for the Humane Society of Charlotte, and it became our biggest fundraiser every year,” Allred said. “That was really successful. I then worked at the Kiwanis Thrift Shop (in Black Mountain) for about four years as a volunteer.”

Allred’s experience running thrift stores made her a fitting choice to oversee day-to-day operations at 2nd Act, according to Batenhorst. Her vision is shaped by her understanding of the field.

“At some point, one of the board members spoke to me about a thrift store,” Allred said. “I said ‘Well, I’ve done this before, and it can be a consistent money-maker if you know how to go about it.’”

The building was retrofitted to suit the needs of retail. Allred began stocking it with items she acquired from local yard sales.

“I’m one of those people that’s kind of picky and very organized,” she said. “One thing we didn’t want was store full of junk. We wanted it to be nice. And we have a tidy, little spot. It’s still a thrift store, but it’s well-organized and clean.”

Allred believes the orderly appearance of the store will make customers proud to shop at 2nd Act.

“We want people to come in regularly and tell about people about the store because it’s a pleasant place to shop,” she said.

The store also serves as a vehicle to connect ArtSpace with the community that surrounds the 400-student school, according to Allred.

“A lot of people that have lived around the area for years don’t know exactly what ArtSpace is,” she said. “And it’s been a lot of fun to get to know the people who are here and talk to them a lot more about the school and what we do there.”

That community connection is what motivates Allred to keep items in 2nd Act affordable.

“When you come into our store, every shirt is $2,” she said. “I don’t care if it’s from Walmart or if it’s a designer shirt. There is no rack where the clothes are more expensive.”

The store has also proved to be a unique teaching tool. ArtSpace has used it to teach basic economics to some of the school’s fourth-grade students.

Students in a seventh- and eighth-grade theater elective were given a creative project centering around merchandise from the store.

“The kids came in and each brought $1,” Allred said. “They had to find an item for $1 and then create a skit around it. Those kids had a ball.”

Teachers at ArtSpace have been helped by the presence of the store as well, especially in the wake of severe flooding at the school in December.

“So many of our teachers lost hundreds of books in the flood,” Allred said. “If they have a play and need costumes, they can come take whatever they need. And if they have a kid that needs clothing, then they now have more of a resource for that, and that’s huge.”

And while the store is currently staffed by Allred and volunteers, Batenhorst would like to see 2nd Act expand beyond its current Wednesday-Saturday business hours.

“We’re looking for volunteers,” Batenhorst said. “If you love the arts or if you like children, we’re always looking for people to help out.”