There's a new shop in town, and the buzz has been nonstop, associates at the Knox Area Rescue Ministries Thrift Store in Lenoir City say.
A stop at the new shop proved true one dreary November day as customers dotted the store. They were all busy in their own shopping world as they flipped through hanger after hanger of clothing, considered a pair of heels or paired a scarf with a new shirt.
The local store had a "soft" opening about two weeks ago and some of the racks are somewhat depleted.
"As you can see some of the empty racks, it's been a challenge to keep them full. We weren't expecting it, not this big," Jenny Shaw, operations manager of KARM's out-of-county thrift stores, said. The racks needed to be restocked by midmorning, but it was nothing to worry about, Shaw said. Donations steadily flew in, which is something rare for a new KARM store.
"We've never had a store take off with donations to where it can be standing on its own right away. It usually takes a few months, but we're standing on our own right away, so that's great," Shaw said. "The people just welcomed us so much. The first Saturday we were open we had no furniture. We got eight couches and four loveseats all in one day."
While some visit the KARM store to further the cause, shoppers Lee Brown, who was driven by the bargains, and Thomas Sanders said they plan on coming back. It was their first stop at the new store.
"In these difficult economic times it's really great to have a place to buy good, quality clothing at a lower price like this," Brown, a Friendsville resident and self-described "KARM addict," said as she pondered over a suit jacket. "It's also great to have a place where the community can share. If I've got clothes that I think could benefit somebody else then I can bring them here and somebody else can get some wear out of them,"
Sanders likes the idea of good items being used a second time.
"It's not really a money thing," he said. "It's just why not reuse stuff that can be worn instead of buying kids and us expensive stuff when you don't really need it?"
KARM marketing manager Sue Renfro said branching out to surrounding communities has proven successful. The Lenoir City is one of several the nonprofit opened this year.
"We're extremely grateful for the warm welcome that we have received in Loudon County, and we hope to serve you for many years to come," Renfro said. "It broadens our ministry and gives us a way to offer positive goods and services to the Lenoir City community as well as the Loudon community to share in the ministry of KARM."
KARM, with a mission to restore lives through rescue and building positive relationships, is home to nearly 400 people each night and provides nearly 1,000 meals daily. The 52-year-old ministry also hosts job training, employment and educational assistance, counseling services and rehabilitation programs.
The nonprofit is currently looking for coat donations for its annual "Coats for the Cold" drive. Coats will be collected at all KARM thrift store and Prestige Cleaners locations through Nov. 18.
Renfro said sales from the 12 thrift stores make up about 10 percent of the ministry's annual budget. Lenoir City store manager Victoria Holland said she believes the thrift stores are a win-win situation for those shopping for a bargain and those needing assistance.
"It's really, really exciting. We work for the mission to glorify God and we truly believe in what we're doing," she said. "Even though my hand isn't a direct hand feeding those meals, without these stores they couldn't do all the outreach programs that they do. So, to know that we've started like this is just - it's so exciting that I get to be a part of it and so excited for the response from the community and hope that they'll continue to support us."
Every $2 that someone spends at a KARM thrift store equals a meal for those in need, Holland said. The Lenoir City store will host a grand opening celebration 11 a.m.-noon Dec. 13.