Up Close and Personal: Republic of Thrift, Sonoma

Republic of Thrift Sonoma, CA

photo courtesy of Sonoma News

I had the great opportunity of interviewing Jeannette Tomany, owner of Republic of Thrift in Sonoma. A big thanks to her for participating, and taking the time out of her insanely busy schedule to answer the questions for Thrift Hangover!

When did you decide that you wanted to start your own business?

I’ve always wanted to start a business.  I am one of those people with ideas all of the time about businesses or inventions.  But I never acted on any of them because I knew they weren’t a good fit for me.  They were all fun to think about and dream, but none really matched my personality or skills.  Until now that is!
How did the idea of starting a thrift store come about?

My son’s school had a big push for donations from families last year. A local philanthropist couple came to speak and offer the school a challenge…raise $100K through NEW fundraising efforts and they would give us $50K. So every family at the school was brainstorming about ways to raise funds. Talking to my sister on the phone, she or I mentioned (that is a family argument now!) “Hey, wouldn’t it be great to open a thrift store to help the school?” And the idea was born! But we quickly realized that Sonoma Valley is small, and benefiting only one school wouldn’t be enough. So we expanded the idea to benefit all of the public schools in Sonoma Valley. We are just moms trying to make a difference.

How long have you owned Republic of Thrift?

We opened in February 2012, so we’ve only been open about 7 months! My sister Michelle moved to Sonoma to help me start the store, and she’s my partner.

Have you had experience in owning a thrift store before?

No! But we have had experiences in our background that helped. My dad was a farmer and it was based at my grandmother’s house in the same small town. My grandmother lived there for 80+ years and it is like an archeological site! We had a routine every time we visited (and that was several times a week)…look through everything in the attic, look through everything in the cellar, look through everything in the barns, then come in for snacks and look through the junk drawer. We love old stuff! My dad is also known to hit auctions and the dump for “treasures” as well. I think we appreciate the history of things.

Also, both my sister, myself and our first employee all worked at Nordstrom and we think that helped us immensely with customer service. We try to stand out in this area as best we can. Finally, I was an event planner for 10+ years and that helps me to visualize a space and how people interact and flow through.

My sister and I are also both thrifters, so we knew what we liked (and didn’t like) when we went to other stores. So we are trying to make Republic of Thrift the best of what we’ve found while thrifting around…a store that offers fair prices and is organized, clothing Republic of Thrift Sonoma, CAthat is sized, clean and good smelling.

What was the most difficult thing about starting up your shop?

I would say the most difficult part was, and continues to be, dealing with incoming donations. We are trying to work on a slim staff so that we make as much money as possible for schools. All of us “fought” the donations at first…by fought, I mean wanting to clean up and always be organized. We have come to realize that really isn’t possible! You have to just go with the flow and accept that donations are coming in when you least expect them! We will get to them all when we get to them, one box at a time!

What is your favorite part of being a thrift shop owner?

I love running the store so much more than I ever imagined. I love meeting the people, and seeing customers buy the items I’ve put out. Another one of my favorite parts is that I get to see  some of these cool, old vintage items are still out there and exist, but I don’t have to own them! As I mentioned, I love old stuff and I love knowing that a piece we get has survived all of these years intact. It feels great to pass it on to someone that loves it. I appreciate so many different styles now… I’ve always liked the old and rusty stuff too. My sister and coworkers make fun of me because I often like to put things out dusty and cobwebby for that “fresh out of the barn look” ! I think it makes it feel more like a discovery for our customers…but maybe that is just me!

Tell us a little about the support you give to the Sonoma Valley School system? Why did you choose to give your profits to this organization?

We chose to give support to the public schools of Sonoma Valley because our kids are in the school system. Schools are hurting financially. They struggle to even get the simplest of items for classrooms. Last year my son’s teacher sent out an email asking for a donation of 20 rulers. Seriously, it has come to this…schools can’t even provide rulers for kids. This is our future and if the government isn’t going to make it a priority then the public has to do whatever they can.

Republic of Thrift benefits the schools here with 100% of our net profits to the 11 schools in our District. We act like a nonprofit, we pay our charity (the schools) like a nonprofit, but we are not yet a nonprofit in the eyes of the government. So we will be paying taxes like everyone else and currently do not offer tax donation receipts.

How much have you donated to the Sonoma Valley School system so far?

So far we’ve given over $19,000 in just 7 months! We are thrilled. We give the bulk of our donations directly to the PTO, or similar parent organization, to use as they see fit. We prefer not to get involved in where the funds go, but trust the parents and supporters of each school to know where money needs to be spent.

Do you have any special advice for thrift shoppers?

I can only speak from my store’s point of view:  in my experience,  I would say to the other thrifters out there to make it a point to visit the independent thrift stores. I know that we get great items, they are sold in our store (not online) and our prices are lower than some of the big chain thrift stores. I can only guess that other independent thrift stores out there are similar.

Is there anything you want to tell people who would like to donate to Republic of Thrift?

We accept donations of gently used items during business hours, preferably one hour prior to closing. If an item is broken or missing major components, please dispose of them at home.

What is the most popular item that is donated to Republic of Thrift?

Hmmm…I could answer this in a few ways. We see trends in things…girl clothes vs. boy clothes and products that aren’t successful.

We’ve noticed that people buy/donate way more clothing for girls (no surprise) than boys. Also perhaps more survive intact  because maybe girls are easier on clothes than boys? Hard to know, but I would say girl clothing donations are at least 75% more than boys!

We also see one particular product being donated constantly, in bulk! Those stick-on lights that you push on and off…maybe they sell them for closets? Not sure, but everyone buys them and no one seems to install or keep them!

What is the most popular item that is sold at Republic of Thrift?

We sell a lot of clothes, especially women’s. Most items we sell are at our set pricing for clothing…$3 for shirts, $2 for tanks and $4 for pants/jeans. We also sell a lot of kids clothes at .50 per item (under 2 yrs old), $1 per item (2-9 yrs) and $2 per item (10+). We have been lucky in our donations and get a lot of nice clothing.

What item do you wish you wouldn’t get any more of?

We’ve coined them “cord balls!” We all have them at home (so do I). Those drawers/boxes full of tangled cords from all the electrical products you’ve ever owned. We love getting the cords and our customers buy them, but the “cord balls” are a nightmare. Unfortunately for us, they are a necessary evil in the thrift store business!

When is the best time to come thrift shopping at Republic of Thrift (when do you replenish inventory, have sales, not as busy, etc.)?

Republic of Thrift Vintage Aprons Sonoma, CAWe try to price items to sell fast, especially furniture, which we usually put out immediately… Our clothing is priced low, so we re-stock  with several rolling racks of new items every day, except Sunday. As far as other items go, we typically price and stock the most Tuesday-Thursday, but do lighter stocking other days as well.

We also have a monthly sale, typically the first Sunday and Monday of each month (may vary due to holidays). The sale varies, but typically it is 30% off either clothing or the entire store. It helps us to keep merchandise moving. Our next sale is Sept 9 & 10.

We are busy most days, but typically Tuesday or Wednesday might be slower days.

Any other comments, or words of wisdom?

We are open Monday-Saturday, 10am-6pm and Sunday, 12-5pm.  Note:  We will be closed September 11-13 for repairs and will not be open for shopping or donations.  Someone hit our building and the facade/glass needs to be repaired.  We apologize for the inconvenience!  Stop by after 9/14 for shopping – we plan to do some major restocking while we are closed, so between us 9/14 would be a great day to visit the store!!!

Thanks Sarah & Thrift Hangover!!!