WAMY closes thrift store, seeks new location
by Anna Oakes
WAMY Community Action closed the Unique Boutique thrift store Feb. 28, stating it is seeking a new location for the store.
WAMY is a nonprofit organization that works to help low-income individuals and families become self-sufficient. Its Unique Boutique thrift store operated during business hours Monday to Saturday at 147 Perkinsville Drive in Boone, behind Mike's Inland Seafood.
"We were just so out of sight back there," said Melissa Soto, executive director of WAMY. "We have not been doing very well financially with the store for several months."
WAMY is based in Boone but coordinates programs in Watauga, Avery, Mitchell and Yancey counties, including after-school youth programs, services for Spanish speakers, micro loans, housing assistance and other services.
Most of WAMY's funding comes from government grants, but grant funds cannot be used to sustain a thrift shop, Soto noted.
"The reason for the thrift store was to help the community, but it was also to bring in some revenue that our grants might not cover," Soto said. "We need the store to support us -- not the other way around."
Soto said WAMY will form a committee to create a business plan for the thrift store. The organization has looked at two or three good sites in the Boone area for relocation, but opening in another county is also an option.
"We would prefer Watauga. This is by far the best one for that kind of thing," she said.
Mother and daughter Pam Harmon and Chasity Miller, part-time employees at the thrift store, expressed disappointment in the decision to close Unique Boutique. Both were informed they would no longer be employed by WAMY after Feb. 28.
"We are hurt very badly for the community," said Harmon, who worked at Unique Boutique for about two years. "This store is a community service." Unique Boutique accepted clothing vouchers from clients of area agencies such as the Hospitality House and Department of Social Services, and Harmon said she was concerned that service will no longer be available.
"If you needed clothing, all that was a free service. This place was needed," she said. Harmon said she felt WAMY could have done more to advertise Unique Boutique and its sales. But Soto said the thrift store's problems went beyond marketing.
"There were no options as far as cutting costs. Our rent was really cheap there," she said. "There were a lot of issues that needed to be worked out."
Zach Ollis, shelter coordinator at Hospitality House, said Ram's Rack on King Street also accepts clothing vouchers, but Unique Boutique's small size made it easier for clients to find business and dress clothing.
The Hunger and Health Coalition in Boone also provides a professional clothes closet program.