Thrift Store Treasure
Who knows what you might find at a Bridge House/Grace House (BH/GH) thrift store: a classic leather bomber jacket, the makings of a truly ghoulish costume, an awesome antique lamp or just a James Patterson bestseller. Here’s what is certain, last year the purchase of such items brought in $1,350,000 in sales to this non-profit organization, which provides long-term, residential substance abuse treatment to men and women regardless of their ability to pay.
“We don’t give up on old and discarded items,” says Michael Ferrara, the manager of the stores. “We find the hidden treasures and we give them new lives. It’s not unlike what we do for our residents.”
Ferrara began working with BH/GH more than 15 years ago. Coming from a strong retail background within both of New Orleans’ legendary department stores – D.H. Holmes and Maison Blanche, as both a buyer and a manager – he was well equipped to run the non-profit’s thrift store. Since he started, gross sales have increased by nearly 60 percent. The stores generate 21 percent of the organization’s operating budget. Last year alone, thrift store sales provided full services for 160 of the 822 men and women admitted to the organization’s programs.
Ferrara made the shift to the nonprofit world after a profound spiritual experience.
“I’ve always loved retail but I needed to do something more meaningful with my life,” he says. “Now through this work I can use my passion for sales to help save lives.”
He believes his personal value system is in sync with BH/GH core values: the belief that men and women at times need help to overcome the challenges of life, and that people can change their behavior and have the capacity for infinite growth.
Ferrara has ushered the thrift store through many growing pains and gains – most recently the opening of the new location at 4243 Earhart Blvd. In November, he will “relaunch” the 7901 Airline Dr. store – marking 10 years at that location.
Ferrara is very passionate about the work and is hands-on with every aspect of the operation.
“We pick it up, unload it, clean it, price it, tag it, display it or pack it up and ship it out,” he says.
Ferrara generates extra income by selling the clothing, shoes, purses and toys not quite up to par as bulk scrap to recycling companies.
This year BH/GH is celebrating its 60th anniversary and Ferrara is honored to be a part of the celebration.
“We have great partners and great donors,” he says. “And because of the great people who choose to donate to us, we have really great goods.”
So if you need to part with a slightly cracked turkey tureen or a pair of faded bell-bottom jeans, Ferrara wants you to know that those cast off goods could make a life-saving difference to a person struggling to make a change for the better.