Thrifting in Plymouth: Ladders, a step above

Christine Aery, Emma Hodgkins, Aidan Perra, Abigail Halloran



Who doesn’t love an affordable way to find unique fashion pieces? In recent years, thrifting has had a major increase throughout the country. As new clothing becomes more expensive, more people turn to second-hand alternatives as an affordable and eco-friendly option. But how has this rise in second-hand goods impacted thrift stores and their demand? We met with Sue Jehl from Ladders Thrift Store to learn more about the company’s impact on the Plymouth community and what the inner workings of a thrift store look like. 

How and why did you start the business? 

I did not start the business. The business was started by the Bridge House Homeless Shelter in order to raise funds at a time when grants were hard to come by and towns were pretty strapped and not able to kick in a lot of money for the homeless shelter. I joined a year later, when Ladders was one year old. And I’ve been here eight years. 

 How do you advertise your business? 

Mostly Facebook. We’re intending to get on the advertising sign on the billboard on the interstate but haven’t gotten around to doing that yet. And we’re also on the Explore Plymouth website. And we have a website and we’re on Instagram as well. 

How many hours a day slash week do you spend working at the store? 

On an average day, about 11 hours, so an average week, right around 60 to 70 hours. 

How often do you give yourself time off? Does running the store take a big toll on your personal well-being?

Definitely does not take a toll on my personal well-being because I live for the store. I’m retired and my kids have grown up and live far away with their kids. So I take time off to go see my grandchildren. Probably about every other month, I do a three or four-day trip, because they live in other states. 

Do you enjoy what you do? And why do you enjoy it? 

Yes, I love it. I love the people. And I love the challenge of trying to organize such an unorganized chaos. 

You do a great job too. How long do donations take to hit the shelves? 

Many donations hit the shelves within an hour. 

What are your company’s goals? Have you met them? 

Ideally, I’d like to bring in more funds, so I can hire more people. Because personnel is our biggest money draw and trying to meet payroll but still meet the needs of Bridge House, it’s difficult when you have the two businesses organized the way that we do it requires a lot of hands-on. So I’d say my current goal is to get more volunteers so that we can have more hands-on. 

What has been your goal as far as making an impact on the Plymouth community? 

I think we’re meeting that goal every day. Helping those that need the help with low-priced merchandise, helping those who need to be needed to have an opportunity to volunteer, and allowing people to not send things to landfills, but instead give them a second chance at life. 

 What are the challenges dealing with items that are not in good enough condition to donate or cannot be sold? 

No challenge, they get unfortunately thrown away. The only exception to that is that our metals go to a metal dealer. And our cardboard goes to a cardboard recycler. And our clothing and all fabrics go to a fabric recycler. And we do get paid by the pound for those. And they end up going to third-world countries primarily, and to prisons and churches. So they do get reused. But there is inevitably waste. 

What happens to the rag bin and the wool cashmere that gets recycled? I think you’ve kind of answered this before, but I’d like to hear more. 

Okay, yeah, I did a little bit, the cashmere gets recycled and sold to a couple of customers that are looking for cashmere in particular. So if there are items that aren’t saleable and they’re cashmere, we hang on to them for those people. But the other one is the regular rags that go into the rag bins and they get picked up once a week.

 Have you noticed a rise in thrifting? 

Oh gosh. Yes. Yeah. 

 Do you think it has impacted the amount of desirable clothing in the store? 

I guess, yeah, because we’ve seen a huge increase in donations. But I think it’s also due to word of mouth and the awareness of our shops that has increased dramatically, not just in New Hampshire but in other states. So we get more. So there’s that impact as well. It’s hard to really judge what the impact is caused by. But it’s certainly there, more donations than we’ve ever seen. 

 How heavily do you rely on volunteers? Do you receive enough volunteers and help? How many are regular? 

I probably have about 20 regular volunteers, most of which do two or three hours once a week. It’s hugely important, though. No, we don’t have enough (volunteers). And it’s hard sometimes because we do have a paid staff as well. And many of my volunteers wish they could be on that paid staff. I probably have a waiting list about 10 (people) long, but we just can’t afford it. Because we have to support the bridge house as well. That’s our purpose. So it makes it kind of interesting to keep all your volunteers happy and working when they really wish that they were actually working and working. But generally speaking, we have about 20 of them that hang in there with us and help out a ton. Once in a while, we do blitz weeks where we call in extra help from the community and I get a pretty good response to that. We get a lot of college students as well. And we do get a lot of volunteers from the college, especially the social work class. But yeah, it’s vital to running a store like this to have a lot of volunteers. 

What is the Bridge House? 

Bridge House is the local homeless shelter up on Highland street right before you get to Hannaford. And it’s a homeless shelter for transient homeless that just are down on luck and don’t have a home. It also does a statewide program for people that are home challenged that are at risk of losing their ability to pay rent or keep their home. They also have a hospice program for people that are low-income and need a hospice program for end-of-life care. And they also have a chronically homeless program for people that really have little chance of getting out of their homeless situation then that would mostly be elderly people who just don’t see any future in being able to correct the problem. 

From the homeless community to people looking for an affordable and sustainable way to shop, after volunteering for four weeks at Ladders, its positive impact on the community is undeniable. Ladders is always looking for new volunteers to help contribute to their positive impact. For more information, call (603) 238-9016.