There are almost 3000 registered opportunity shops – or op shops as we lovingly refer them by – across Australia, each with predominantly sweet ladies selling used things once cherished by others.
They’ve been non-judgemental and welcoming with a smile ever since the Salvation Army opened the first recycling shop in 1880 as a means of helping men straight out of prison. Today they are for everyone; the needy and the upper-class bargain hunters and collectors.
Among them is the Willunga Lions & District Auxiliary Boutique Op Shop in Aldinga Beach, perhaps best known as the Lions Ladies Boutique. It started out as the Ye Olde Oddity Shoppe in 1973 in a near broken-down bus bought in Bowhill for $200.
Tens of thousands of people later, who have bought their pre-loved clothes, shoes, electrical items, trinkets and knick-knacks raising almost a million dollars for charities, this op shop on Butterworth Road is enjoying a renewed rush.
Leading nine or 10 volunteer helpers on a roster basis every Wednesday and Saturday from 7am-1.30pm for the past 16 years have been its president-secretary Margaret Dorton and treasurer Merle Hirsch.
On the first day of re-opening on June 10 after the easing of coronavirus restrictions Margaret said more than 100 people came and went in just one of the three sheds at the op shop and spent $1260 overall. Not bad when most of the items were under $4.
“It’s been busier than ever since,” Margaret said. “I think people just want to get out.”
Actually, it’s ‘Measure Tape Margaret’, a name that has stuck since she used to come in weekly with one around her neck to measure bits and pieces to make clothes. She became an easy and very willing target to recruit in 2004.
“Merle was asked to join the committee at the same time,’ Margaret said. “Back then we had one shed, then a second for storage, which led to a big double shed. We still needed space so we got Bertha, the name we gave to our shipping container.
“We open at seven both mornings every week because of the child care centre and kindergarten behind us. People come here early and they pop in. It used to be half past six… we’d put everything out and then sit around and have coffee and toast. We stopped doing that because of the restrictions, but that’s okay.
“We rotate our stock with different tags for each month. When the clothes finish up left on the racks we put them in a trolley outside and sell them for a dollar.
“If they’re still there in another month the Red Nose charity people come and collect them.
“Last month we had 80 garbage bags and 40 cartons of different things from other shops as well. Without Red Nose all of the clothing would all go into land fill. They sort it and divide it among organisations like Save the Children.”
Merle believes that the op shop is busier than ever because there are a lot of people like her. “I just love op shops,” she said. “There’s always the opportunity to grab a bargain, and it’s also about helping the local community knowing that’s where the money goes.
“I am proud top belong to a group that has helped charities for 46 years. It’s amazing.”
Merle was unsure how much the op shop had raised since 1973, but checked the books and noted that this op shop had donated $813,224 to 24 community organisations and charities over the past 16 years. It is an incredible effort.
“Everyone is proud of that,” she said. “I just love being here. Sometimes it’s to stand here and listen to someone or just give them a much-needed hug.”
Margaret insists that nothing is hung on the racks that the volunteers would not wear themselves.
“I adopted that attitude right from the start,” she said. “I don’t believe in passing on something that is soiled or needs mending. If it’s like that and good quality I will take it home and wash and mend it or whatever.
“We are all dressed by the op shop from inside to outside. Why would I buy a dress, jacket or skirt for $50 when I can buy one for $4? I am not too proud to say that. I feel that I am helping the organisations that we support.”
Margaret and Merle leave no doubt the op shop is much busier than when they started. It’s not always the people that have need that walk through the doors, but they agree the need seems much greater now. And when they do come in, no matter who they are they are greeted with a ‘hello’ and a smile.
“For me, this is about working with and helping people in the community,” Margaret said. It adds to her 20-plus years in Leigh Creek in another life – many as president of CWA which also ran an op shop. You can see he care factor in everyone who volunteers in the Lions Ladies Boutique.
However, with Margaret, compassion runs incredibly deep. Her daughter-in-law works in a mortuary and is occasionally confronted by a need to console parents of a newborn baby no bigger than their hand who sadly has not survived. Margaret has crocheted hundreds of miniature blankets and the tiniest of beanies for each of these precious children. It’s why she has the strength in the op shop to deal with the proverbial man who has no shoes.