A shop selling second-hand designer clothes could draw style-conscious bargain hunters into town. The Dorset hospice charity, Julia’s House, which helps county children facing life-limiting conditions, is opening a new store on Shaftesbury High Street.
The animal welfare charity Cats Protection had previously announced their intention to trade from the unit, between Twarbers Barbers and the former Gilyard Scarth offices, but decided not to proceed.
ThisIsAlfred found out why the management of Julia’s House believe that they are offering shoppers something special. “We are very, very different to other charity shops and I’m hoping by the end of this week, people will be able to see some of the stock that we’ve got through the windows,” said Tracy Stanley, the area retail manager for Julia’s House.
“We certainly have a boutique retail feel. We’re very big on our children’s section, too. It is growing all the time. We have the most incredible designer outfits for children. We have quite a large men’s department with designer labels as well,” she said.
Tracy says every item on sale is second hand. Julia’s House don’t sell new goods. “Everything is pre-loved and everything’s been donated,” said Tracy. “But we’re very lucky with the items that we have donated to the shop. We share it across all of our shops.”
People often search through this charity shop’s rails and shelves looking for items from famous fashion houses. “We’ve had Armani. We’ve had Mulberry handbags. Loads. We are so lucky with the designer items that we get.”
Tracy believes that the carefully curated stock at Julia’s House shops means that they have regulars who travel around seeing what they can find. “They know exactly where to go. They know where the good donations are being dropped off,” said Tracy. “They are fully aware and they all come every single week.”
Only designer clothes, children’s toys and electricals will go on sale, but the charity will take all donations and decide whether to sell them or send them elsewhere. “We take everything. It depends on our shop as to where we will put the item,” said Tracy. “We always say to our customers donating something that if it is not fit for sale in our shop then we might send it off to a developing country. We also support the homeless. We will give our stock to them – gloves and hats and scarves.”
Tracy adds that the charity also raises money for Monkey World, the primate sanctuary and rescue centre based near Wareham.
Some Shaftesbury traders have voiced their dissatisfaction with what they believe to be unfair competition from charity shops. Those stores receive at least 80% business rates relief and they rely heavily on volunteer staff. But Tracy believes that more occupied shop units should benefit all retailers in town.
“I just think all competition is healthy competition. The more shops that you have in Shaftesbury, bringing customers into Shaftesbury, is great,” said Tracy. “For us it’s about sharing the love. We support all charities. We support all shops and we certainly want to be in Shaftesbury, within the town, and do the best job we possibly can for Shaftesbury.”
Julia’s House has hired its paid staff for their Shaftesbury shop and now they’re hoping to sign up more helpers. “We have recruited a manager and assistant manager and we’re always looking for volunteers. We have three drop-in sessions on the 7th of March, 13th of March and the19th of March. We welcome anybody to come along to the shop between the hours of 11am and 2pm. We’re desperately looking for as many volunteers as we can. We’ve already got two or three, but we would like 30 to 35 volunteers,” said Tracy.
The shop is expected to open at the end of next month. “We are opening at 10am on Friday 29th of March. Martin Edwards, our Chief Executive, will be opening the shop with one of our families from Shaftesbury – one of the children that we look after within the organisation.”
Cats Protection had previously announced their intention to open a shop at the site at 27 High Street. They applied to the Town Council for planning consent for a sign as recently as January. That request was turned down, as it was not considered ‘in-keeping’.
Cats Protection spokesperson, Helen Coen, emailed ThisIsAlfred last year to say that they would be opening in March or April. But last week Ms Coen wrote, “There were several parties interested in taking on the shop unit and, on this occasion, another charity was successful.”
“I do not know what happened with Cats Protection but we were just very lucky to have been offered the property,” said Tracy. “We have been looking for quite some time in Shaftesbury as we’ve had some incredible support here. We were very lucky and we snapped it up.”