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History of Soroptimist International of Anacortes

What a fabulous Neverending Story of service to the community has been told by members of Soroptimist International of Anacortes! The club’s humble beginnings decades ago was built on the dreams of a few hard working women who laid their own resources on the line for the greater good of the whole community.

Soroptimist International of Anacortes was chartered by the Metropolitan Club of Seattle in June, 1948 with 23 members. These were business women, representing just about every type of industry in Anacortes. After adopting by-laws and appointing committees, the next big decision was a club project. The Seattle club advised them to choose something out of the ordinary – a “reach for the stars” idea. Since so many clubs chose scholarships, they decided it would be more fun to do something unusual.

Although there were many suggestions, the final decision was to start a Hospital Equipment for Loan program which would serve residents of Anacortes without charge. The first piece of equipment purchased was a bed.

The next problem the club encountered was how to pay for the bed. The club members raised money in a variety of ways. They held style shows, bake sales, musical programs, rummage sales and dinners. All of these fund raisers took lots of time and effort, and sometimes the resulting profit was small.

In 1966, Thelma Marani, Nina Antonious and Doris Tursi decided to ask the club to consider opening a thrift shop. The idea received a lot of opposition for a variety of reasons, mostly cost. Doris, a Life Member who just recently passed away, said, “It took some persuasion to convince the club that it was a good idea. We had to personally guarantee that the club would not go in debt, and we never did. We didn’t make much at first, but we always managed to make expenses, which were $25 plus a few dollars in winter for Presto Logs.”

Little did anyone know back in 1966 how this decision would impact the club. First of all, the thrift shop became it’s own service project, offering the community clean, high quality, previously owned goods at a reasonable price. Secondly, it became the engine that generated funds that made all of the other service projects possible.

The location for the “Bargain Bungalow”, as it was first called, was a small house at 31st and Commercial. The members put up shelves and clothes racks and opened for business on December 13, 1966. The first time the shop made $30, the members felt like celebrating.

In 1972, the building that was being rented for the “Bargain Bungalow” was up for sale and so the search began for a permanent home for the shop. Two members of the club were in real estate and found out that the Salvation Army building was for sale for $2500 and the club purchased it in December 1972.

The members and their husbands completed the needed repairs and remodeling to get the building ready to use. When the moving day arrived, boxes filled with pots and pans and dishes were loaded on flat bed truck. The clothes were also moved on the flat bed, still on their racks. Members of the club drove behind in a car ready to jump out and pick up anything that fell off. The Soroptimist Thrift Shop (its new name) opened in March 1973.

By the late 1990’s the original Thrift Shop began to burst at the seams and it became apparent that for the comfort and safety of the members and customers a new building was needed. At the same time, Anacortes had also outgrown its Public Library and new one was in the planning phase. The club purchased the old children’s wing of the library (for which they had donated $15,000 when it was originally built) for $1 and arranged to have it moved to the new site which had been purchased just across the alley from the old building. That moving day was very exciting. The children’s library was approximately 2000 square feet of floor space, and it was all moved in one piece. Once the building was in place on the new site, an additional 2000 square foot building was built attached to the library wing, creating a beautiful and productive new Thrift Shop. The children’s library became the new retail area, and the new construction became the backroom for sorting and preparation of items, and a hospital equipment room, a meeting room, and storage.

The new Soroptimist Thrift Shop was completed in May of 2002 and a huge gala opening was planned to celebrate. During our first day in business we made over $3000. What excitement that brought about!

With the nicer space, we attracted more customers and also more volunteer workers who enjoyed the lively volunteer spirit that existed in our shop. Our sales showed a corresponding increase and we were soon making a big dent in our building loan, while continuing to increase our service giving and scholarships. A few years later, when the small property to the east of our shop came up for sale, we decided to purchase it to hold space for future expansion. We have learned from experience that this project just keeps growing.

As the years passed, we found that we desperately needed space for our successful hospital equipment loan program. The equipment was all stuffed into two rooms barely larger than closets and you sometimes had to almost move the entire room to get to one piece of equipment. We explored various ideas, such as renting a warehouse, but all ideas seemed full of problems. As our loan balance grew smaller, several members started putting forward the idea of adding on to our current shop, using the adjacent property which we had purchased.

Now this idea was not instantly popular with many of us, because we had just finished a big project and weren’t quite emotionally ready to hop into another one. However, we kept discussing the idea, and some members even wanted to expand the shop, as long as we were going to the trouble and expense of adding a hospital equipment room. Whew! Now we’re talking a big investment, plus we didn’t know if we wanted the new debt and didn’t want to take away from the service that we were already doing. Also, the idea of getting bigger would require more member and volunteer hours to staff and maintain it. Eventually we held a vote to explore the idea and see what might be involved, so a building committee was formed.

Due to the tricky nature of adding onto two different adjoined buildings, we decided that it was necessary to hire the services of an architect, so in July 2007 we began that process. The building grew even larger, when the architect suggested that we could add an upstairs room over the home health section for a very reasonable cost. Since we are always searching for a good office and small meeting space, we decided that would be a good idea. A year of planning by the building committee and revising plans as we consulted with club members ensued. By June 2008 we completed the process and were ready to build. Our challenge this time was to find a way to keep the shop open during the entire construction process. We found an excellent contractor, weathered a very snowy, cold winter as we built, and by May 2009 we celebrated our grand opening.

We now have a wonderful shop with twice the floor space we had previously, a spacious home health room with areas for cleaning the equipment, and a comfortable office and meeting space. Our customers enjoy the new store and our income has kept pace with the need to service our loan and also continue all of our excellent programs of service and scholarships. We’re a very active club with and depend on the dedication of our members and a large corps of volunteers, plus the constant recycling of good, usable items from the Anacortes community.

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