When Opportunity Knocks

Posted on August 5, 2015 under Storytelling with one comment


Brenda and Georgina – Op Shop stalwarts



“The trouble with opportunity is that it always comes disguised as hard work.” – Anonymous

Most small enterprises spend a lot of time developing business plans, marketing their ideas and finding a location that is highly visible. They hire and train staff, select product lines that are attractive to consumers and work long hours hoping to turn a profit. They are constantly buffeted by the winds of change and the whims of the economy. Failures outnumber success stories.

And then, there’s The Opportunity Shop; an establishment that has been operating in Antigonish since the early 1950’s.

It began under the auspices of St. Ninian’s Parish and in the early years, St. Vincent de Paul, the Knights of Columbus and Family Services of Eastern Nova Scotia all took a turn running it. Donations of used clothing were collected, sorted and made available at a reasonable cost to those who could use them. In 1984, the shop was floundering, the main problem being finding a suitable location for an ever-expanding service. The Op Shop closed for several months and, when it reopened, it was under the guidance of the Catholic Women’s League. The finances were also precarious at the time so the group undertook a campaign to solicit funds from local merchants. These businesses were later repaid when the Opportunity Shop became self-sufficient.

In the fall of 1993, many hands contributed to the construction of the present facility on Main Street. On January 24, 1994, the Op Shop opened its doors in its new digs … debt free and without government assistance. This was a testament to the acumen of the women in charge and the generosity of the community.

While the Op Shop was originally set up to provide clothing at a low price to help families and individuals with limited resources, it has become something much more. It is also a vintage fashion connoisseur’s delight; and these days, retro is “in”. Where better to find something from the 60’s than here.

Over the years they haven’t changed the business model all that much. As a matter of fact, their prices have remained constant for decades. And their clientele is international. Yes, they have their regular locals who come by every week of the year to see what’s new in the bins. But people also come from as far away as Cape Breton, Pictou County and Goa, India and Tanzania. Our friends from the Philippines are welcomed with open arms. The students from the Coady International institute are among the most ardent supporters of the Opportunity Shop. They come because of the selection and the prices but also because of the staff, many of whom have been there for years.

The Op Shop has the equivalent of one full time paid staff person along with a small army of volunteers who sort the merchandise, price it and put it in the bins. While they encourage the public to drop off good, usable clothing and household goods only, some people see it as a place to discard items that would otherwise find their way into the landfill. But there is very little that doesn’t get used. Items that don’t sell locally are often sent to a Mennonite community in Truro. What they can’t use is incinerated or shipped overseas, arriving in far off places like Russia. If I ever see President Putin wearing my old St. F. X. football jersey, I’ll know where he got it!

Everything that comes through the door gets recycled in some fashion. Well, almost everything.

The staff never know what they are going to find when they open up the collection bin first thing in the morning. It’s like Christmas 365 days of the year. Among the most unusual discoveries was a grocery bag full of marijuana, a half a bottle of rum and on a few occasions they have found human beings! One suspects that these people lost their GPS devices, were looking for a place to sleep or were possibly trying to elude the police. Or maybe their significant others threw them in hoping to recycle them.

The Opportunity Shop is amazing in so many ways. When inventory gets perilously low, it just seems that new donations magically appear. Ditto for volunteers. The place never runs short of goods or good people willing to put their shoulder to the wheel.

Despite the ravages of inflation and the aforementioned pricing structure, the Op Shop always turns a profit which is redistributed to worthwhile causes. You can call it the multiplier effect or the domino effect but all of this money (like the clothing) gets recycled back into the community. There is simply no other business quite like it.

Like any good organization the Op Shop even has its own mascot. Georgina’s dog, Fitz, is a regular attendee and much loved by the customers.

They say that opportunity knocks but once. That may be true in other places, but at 314 Main Street, opportunity knocks every day.

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