Tool Thrift Shop an instrument to aid community, offer volunteer opportunities
By Christine Green
If you walk into the Tool Thrift Shop at the Fairport Village Landing in Fairport looking for a bargain on some hardware, you just might be lucky enough to see the “Frank and Frank Show.”
Witty banter, funny jokes, and quite a few giggles come with the show, and you’ll be tempted to join in the fun while browsing through used tools. Frank Grant and Frank Jug man the counter, organize inventory, and generally create a convivial, friendly air about the place.
Grant and Jug are just two of the more than 40 volunteers that help make the Tool Thrift Shop the success that it has been for almost eight years.
Senior Options for Independence is the outreach arm of Fairport Baptist Homes that helps seniors age in place and live independently in the Fairport-Penfield community. SOFI provides help with everything from navigating insurance options to transportation. It also connects seniors with many of the services available to them around the county.
Several years ago, Ellen O’Connor, former director of community services at Fairport Baptist Homes-SOFI, was looking for ways to help enhance the services they offer.
“The SOFI team was well aware that the need for our services was going to increase and funding was not just because of the change in demographics around the world. We were concerned with how do we raise more revenue,” she said.
O’Connor knew that Craft Bits & Pieces, a local used crafts and home goods store, donated its profits to SOFI. What if it could open a similar store but sell tools instead of craft items?
The Tool Thrift Shop recently moved to a larger space in the Fairport Village Landing.
O’Connor consulted with John Gehret of Penfield who was eager to help SOFI by assisting seniors who needed to make their homes easier to live in. Together, they formed a steering committee and by November of 2010, the doors to the Tool Thrift Shop were open to the public.
The grand opening took place in January 2011. At the time, Gehret wasn’t exactly sure what the future would look like. “We were wondering if we would last past a year,” he said.
But he needn’t have worried. Since 2011, revenue and popularity have grown exponentially. To date, the SOFI program has received $405,000 from the Tool Thrift Shop. The program is also good for the environment as it keeps countless items out of local landfills by recycling what does not sell.
As of 2018, it had recycled 105,961 pounds of metal and received $16,538 in revenue from scrap recycling. The store’s success has inspired volunteers in Albany and Utica to open similar stores using the Tool Thrift Shop model.
Sense of Purpose
Volunteers like Jug and Grant have found a home away from home at the Tool Thrift Shop. Bill Evans of Fairport, a dispatcher at the Rochester 911 center, first came to the shop as a customer but soon realized that he could help his community by volunteering. Today, he is a store manager and member of the management team and said the Tool Thrift Shop is “an awesome place to be and it’s a community within itself. It provides a means of recreation and enjoyment and a purpose for many senior citizens.”
Gehret agrees that this sense of purpose is vital for people when they retire. He said volunteering in a friendly place like the Tool Thrift Shop can help those searching for direction after retirement.
He said it is important for seniors “to develop a strong purpose in life to keep you going. It is not only good for the individual, but it is good for the community. And that’s a large part of what we are about — giving people a sense of purpose as well as giving back to the community.”
Store manager Bill Karpinski of Fairport also noted the shop volunteers enjoy a family-like atmosphere that keeps them coming back time and again.
“The Tool Thrift Shop is different, because one of the two goals in setting it up was to provide an opportunity for the retired members of our community to give back in a way that they enjoy and that makes use of their professional and hobby skills and knowledge, in a collegial environment,” he said.
Of course, the fact the Tool Thrift Shop supports SOFI also makes the work the volunteers do that much more important to them. Gehret’s spouse and current volunteer coordinator at the shop, Jeanne Gehret, truly enjoys knowing that the work she and her volunteers do is helping others right in their own community.
“It gives deep pleasure to give back to a caring organization that has done so much for our loved ones. SOFI staff assisted my parents when they moved out of their home in their 90s and recently helped my 102-year-old dad qualify for insurance benefits,” she said.
“Tools have a very emotional component to them,” said O’Connor. When someone is donating tools after a loved one passes or because they themselves are no longer able to use them, they want them to go to a good home like the Tool Thrift Shop. These were items that crafted memories and sometimes were vital to the livelihoods of the people that used them.
John Gehret often picks up donated items for the shop and knows that giving away old tools and hardware can be very emotional.
“These people are giving us their memories as well as their products. That is huge, especially for widows or widowers. We see the tears and some of us join in on those tears,” he said.
The Tool Thrift Shop recently moved to a larger space in the Fairport Village Landing and is planning a Sept. 7 grand reopening.
For information on shop hours, how to donate, or how to volunteer, visit toolthriftshop.org.