Age of discovery
After 55 years, the Discovery Shoppe stays true to charitable mission
Name a household object and it’s probably come through the red front door of the Discovery Shoppe at some point over the last 55 years. Every so often, donated items are worth a lot of money—like a 14-karat gold watch recently appraised at $1,200—while others are of higher sentimental value.
“The personal things some people give you, you’re just amazed,” said volunteer Denise Orr. “It’s sad, when a relative passes, [customers] will bring us a doctorate dissertation or a master’s thesis they’d printed on beautiful paper and bound, and here it is, some amazing work. We get family photos, too; just stuff people don’t want to throw away. It’s heart-wrenching, sometimes.”
That’s not to say that working at the thrift store on Flume Street is emotionally onerous—far from it. As longtime volunteer Kay Matzdorff said during a recent interview, many people are initially drawn to working at the Discovery Shoppe “by the idea of giving,” but end up staying long-term because of the friendships they build with co-workers and customers. Often, especially around the holidays, the mood is joyous.
“Working here, I have to say, we have one heck of a good time,” Matzdorff said. “You make 80 or 90 new friends, and I think that motivates people.”
That’s no exaggeration. About 100 volunteers—all women—rotate three-hour shifts a few times a month, either working the cash register or sorting through donated items in the back room. Nobody is paid. Aside from water and electricity bills and maintenance costs, “every single dollar goes to charities,” Matzdorff said.
“I think it’s amazing,” she added. “We don’t have anybody who runs the place; we don’t have any big bosses. I’m not sure there’s any thrift shop in town, or maybe the state, that operates this way.
“I love the idea of what we do, I love that we do it well, and that we’re having a good time. That’s so special.”
Discovery Shoppe has continuously operated in Chico since 1959, including its current 42-year run at the corner of Third and Flume streets. The store was originally conceived as the fundraising arm of the Family Service Association of Butte and Glenn Counties, a family counseling organization that, as Matzdorff phrased it, “went belly up” in 1993.
At that point, a group of women who volunteered at the shop decided to turn the operation into its own entity, an official 501c3 nonprofit, and direct all proceeds to a variety of local charities. Since making that transition in 1996, Discovery Shoppe has donated nearly $850,000 to dozens of fellow nonprofit organizations, such as the Boys & Girls Club, Catalyst Domestic Violence Services, Chico Cat Coalition and the Jesus Center, to name just a few. The shop donated $85,000 this year alone.
Every year, members of the Discovery Shoppe vote on which nonprofits to support.
“We operate under the theory that we’re doing this to help people in need, and from an educational point of view,” Matzdorff said. “Last year we gave to the Chico Museum, which we feel is necessary for kids—they should know where they came from, and how.”
If the volunteers at Discovery Shoppe are on a mission, the store’s tidily organized shelves and racks are a reflection of that. Along a given wall one might find children’s dolls, fine porcelain and crystal dishware, antique Christmas ornaments, pastel paintings, woven baskets, and even the odd DVD or iPod station.
Donated items that can’t be sold, for whatever reason, are never wasted. For instance, ARC of Butte County stops by twice a week to pick up excess clothing, and unusable comforters and blankets go to the Butte Humane Society.
And when somebody needs a hand, you can bet the volunteers at the Discovery Shoppe will offer theirs.
“Earlier this year, we had a woman come in looking for something to wear to her daughter’s wedding that she could afford,” Matzdorff said. “We outfitted her from top to bottom; she looked like a princess. She will never forget that, and that’s the kind of thing that happens fairly often here.”