By Pamela Dozois

The Buellton Thrift Store is a god-send to many residents of the Santa Ynez Valley and surrounding areas. It has been in existence for 30 years, in a number of different location throughout the valley, and Rosemary Hrehor has been the store manager for the past 10 or 12 years. 

“I can’t exactly remember how long I’ve been running the store, but let’s say I have outlasted a number of directors,” said Hrehor. “But I have to say Pam Gnekow (director of the Buellton Senior Center, which operates the store) is a gem. She has an infinitely generous and kind heart.”

Hrehor tends to the store’s patrons and volunteers with humor, grit, and grace, keeping things rolling along successfully amidst a variety of unexpected incidents and unsolicited late-night donations.

“This is a team effort,” said Hrehor. “Our success is not because of the strength of one individual but how we function together as a team. All our volunteers work together to sort the piles of donations we receive daily. This job takes a lot of strength and time, with lots of back pain and achy bones to follow. While at times we are overwhelmed with the quantity of donations, at the same time we are blessed with all the wonderful things we receive every day. That’s why I always say, ‘Why do people buy retail? They should come to us and if we don’t have it, we’ll find it for you.’”

Hrehor says that working at the Thrift Store is very rewarding. There are 37 volunteers who help out, none of whom draws a salary. Most people are not aware that the Thrift Store not only helps seniors, but those in need as well, such as fire and flood victims. 

“We change people’s lives. And the feeling you get from being of service to others – well, it’s gratifying to say the least – there’s nothing quite like it,” she said.

Two tents stand next to the Thrift Store on West Highway 246 One is full of furniture, which is a big part of the store’s success. The volunteers work diligently to make sure all items are cleaned, prices are listed and then posted on Facebook and other online sites. The other tent is for storage.  

Hrehor explained that years ago, when the concrete floors were being poured, she thought they were building a garage for the Thrift Store. Instead of a garage, they got tents. 

“The tents are getting old and everything inside is a little dusty with all the wind, so if anyone feels moved to build us a garage, please come forward. The foundation is already there – we just need the building,” said Hrehor.

The Buellton Thrift Store is open six days a week, Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“We can always use more volunteers,” she stated. “Even though we seem to have a lot of volunteer help, we are still lacking, especially on Saturdays. A lot of us may be getting up there in age but we still have a lot of wisdom, heart, strength, and courage to offer. The people who are scheduled to work always show up promptly, raring to go.

“We are so fortunate to have this group of dedicated volunteers. We are more like a family than anything. A lot of the senior customers come into the shop for daily hugs or to have someone to talk to. They are welcomed by our wonderful staff of cashiers. We may be the only people they see in a day. My goal is to get all seniors out of the house.”

People often ask Hrehor why she continues to do this work and she says her reply is always the same. “I do it because I believe in it. My mother was an exceptional woman, always giving. She didn’t have much, but she would give you the shirt off her back. So I promised her that I would help others too,” Hrehor recollected. “It makes me feel great to know that my time is spent helping seniors in need. But I couldn’t do it without the help of all my volunteers. They are the backbone of this operation.” 

Volunteers who have worked at the Thrift Store for 19 years or more are Rosemary and Chuck Hrehor, and Connie and  Vince Liquori; for 10-14 years, Patricia Roather, Jan Myers, Dianne Day and Rita Gonzalez; for two to five years, Norma Steele, Mable Shatavsky, Ling Wheatly, Judy McDonald, Pat Fleming, Hanne Lawrence, Celia Alvarado, Steve (who likes to stay anonymous), Alan Andberg, Inger Hunger Hughs, Brigida Ortiz, Normajean Hubbard, Gary Whitehair, Roger and Sheila Junk, Julie Pattee, and Jan Skaling; and for two years or less, Glenn Windh, Charli Ricci and Finn Runge, Carolyn Russell, Judi Smith, Patti Kern, Norma Peterson, Jackie Peterson, Leclaire and Danny Belcher, and Erlinda Delgado. Art Nelson is the newest volunteer to join the team.

All of the funds raised by the Buellton Thrift Store go to the upkeep of the Buellton Senior Center and the many programs they provide the seniors in the area.

Buellton Thrift Store is at 56 West Highway 246 in Buellton. For more information, call 805-688-5073.