The Clothes Horse, which is a mission of the Junior League of Hartford, will turn 70 this year and has been a staple of West Hartford’s Park Road neighborhood for 45 years.
By Ronni Newton
On the southwest corner of Park Road and Oakwood Avenue in West Hartford sits a little shop that sells used clothing, accessories, and home decor – but it’s not your average second-hand shop.
Now celebrating its 70th year, The Clothes Horse, which supports the programs of the Junior League of Hartford, has made its home on Park Road in West Hartford for 45 years. When founded the Clothes Horse was in the building that now houses Junior Achievement in Hartford, and its West Hartford space was formerly the Oakwood Drug Store.
The recent rise of online sites selling used clothing and accessories has made a dent in the Clothes Horse’s business, but three years ago the Junior League updated and rebranded the shop as a “thrift-ique.” In addition, although all other merchandise is donated, designer handbags are now accepted on a consignment basis, Junior League President Molly Towne said.
She said that while the Clothes Horse’s financials aren’t what they once were, “It is near and dear to our hearts” as a Junior League program.
Clothes Horse Manager Ashley Hunt formerly worked for Second Time Around in West Hartford Center and is an expert at displaying the merchandise to highlight some of the best and most unique pieces. She has organized store into “boutique” (high end), vintage (styles from the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s), and regular items.
The handbags are held on consignment. “If they don’t sell after two months, then they are considered a donation to the Junior League,” Towne said.
Coach, Chanel, and Dooney and Bourke logos were spotted among the handbags on display, but Hunt said that a variety of brands are accepted on consignment. Most are priced for about a third of their original price, and they try to consign bags that originally cost $150 and up. Most are in great condition but just not being used, and this way the donors can make a little bit of money rather than just giving them away.
Hunt said that consignment of designer handbags has become a very popular trend, and is even offered at major national retailers like Lord & Taylor and Nordstrom.
The remainder of the items sold in the store are donated by active and provisional Junior League members – who commit to donating at least $100 worth of items each year – as well as members of the community, Towne said. The store accepts and sells clothing and accessories for men and women (not children), as well as home goods.
“For a lot of people, there’s still some negative connotation associated with a thrift store, but some items we have are brand new, and others still have purpose left,” Hunt said.
“I’m really amazed at the caliber of what comes in here,” said Hunt. One example was a pair of Frye boots, in nearly new condition.
The customer base is varied, and ranges from high schools students, to old married couples, to young moms. “It’s a sprinkling of everyone,” Hunt said. “No matter what your economic status, you can find something here.”
And what’s accepted for donation is not brand-dependent. It just needs to be clean and sellable. “If it’s clean enough to lend to a friend and would make your mother proud” is the standard that Hunt said she uses.
Donations are all tax deductible.
Hunt takes the time to speak with both the donors, and those who come in looking for something in particular.
“Just to hear the stories, I think it’s so cool,” Hunt said.
Some people shop at the Clothes Horse to fund reasonably priced items used in collections or for hobbies. “Even if something isn’t the most stylish, people buy things for the fabric,” Hunt said. One customer snaps up all of the plaids, especially skirts, to repurpose.
“One woman buys all of the Lilly Pulitzer she can to make pillows for her daughter’s room,” Hunt said.
“It’s the same thing with broken jewelry. One man’s perfume is another man’s poison,” said Shaunda Jeter, another Clothes Horse employee who pointed to a mirror with a frame crafted from single earrings and other bits of jewelry.
While items in the boutique section are priced individually, most of the rest of the merchandise is sold for a standard, and very reasonable, price.
The Clothes Horse employs five people, including Hunt and Jeter.
The income from the The Clothes Horse’s operations funds programs of the Junior League of Hartford (JLH). The current “community impact focus is Empowering Women and Girls,” the JLH website states.
The Clothes Horse is located at 175 Park Rd., West Hartford. The store is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., and is closed on Sunday and Monday. For more information call 860-233-1411 or visit the website.
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