MIDDLETOWN — Delaware County residents are about to witness the demise of a long-standing local landmark. The iconic Riddle Thrift Shop will close its doors on Jan. 31, ending what has been a thriving community mecca for consignors, shoppers and volunteers for over half of a century.
According to Main Line Health, Riddle Thrift Shop will close because Riddle Hospital is preparing to undergo a campus modernization project in order to better meet the health care needs of patients and community members. The master facility plan includes the construction of a new patient tower to be built on the current front parking lot of the hospital, requiring the hospital to reconfigure traffic flow and parking on the campus. New parking for patients and visitors will be built in the area of the Annex Building, where the Riddle Thrift Shop is currently located.
“With construction soon to begin, the safety of our visitors and staff remains our top priority,” Main Line Health wrote in a recently released statement. “With this in mind, and with deep regret, the Riddle Thrift Shop will close ... We have worked diligently to find a new home for the thrift shop, but unfortunately, we have not yet been able to identify a new location. Despite this news, we remain excited and energized about how the modernization of the Riddle Hospital campus will improve the quality of life and access to exceptional care for our Riddle Hospital family and the communities we serve.”
Riddle Thrift Shop currently has three paid staff members. In an age when many organizations are hurting for volunteers, the thrift shop has a vibrant pool of more than 100 active volunteers. The shop, which opened in 1960, currently occupies 8,000 square feet of space located within the Annex Building on the front side of Riddle Hospital’s campus. The top floor is dedicated to clothing, shoes and accessories and the lower level showcases furniture and household items, as well as encompasses a large consignment area. Over the past ten years, average proceeds, raised to benefit the hospital, have ranged between $76,000 and $100,000 per year, after payment of salaries and overhead. The shop works with 30 different consignors each day of operation.
According to Mary Kate Coghlan, Main Line Health communications and legislative affairs director, Main Line Health has searched extensively to relocate the shop, but no suitable space has been found.
“We have explored dozens of properties, and have not yet found a location close enough to the hospital with the amount of square feet and space for parking needed, where we could safely afford rent based on the anticipated income,” she stated. “While we are saddened that we have not been able to find a new location for the thrift shop, we remain hopeful and excited about this next chapter in Riddle Hospital’s future, which will further advance our promise and commitment to serve as many members of the community as possible.”
Not all of the volunteers, consignors, and shoppers are quite as delighted about the thrift shop’s demise. Many have had an emotional response, not just to the loss of their beloved thrift shop, but to the way they were, or weren’t, told about its closing.
Derek Kay of Drexel Hill, a volunteer at Riddle Thrift Shop for five years, has initiated a petition to not only voice the volunteers’ and consignors’ displeasure over the way dedicated volunteers were treated by not being properly informed of the closure, but to protest how the shop is closing without a relocation option. In just the first few days, he had upward of 60 signatures, and the volunteer says, he has only just begun.
“Riddle Thrift Shop is a mainstay in our hospital community and in our surrounding communities,” stated an emotional Mimi Haggerty of Wallingford, who has shopped and consigned at the shop for over 20 years. “We enjoy consigning, making a little money, shopping, helping Riddle Hospital, and seeing friends and family in the shop.
“There must be other parcels of land that could handle a new parking garage. For the sake of the Riddle community and our hospital, I hope Main Line Health rethinks their decision to demolish Riddle Thrift Shop. It has an important community function and we want it in our lives.”
Although they began hearing closure rumors buzzing around in the early fall, volunteers say that they only found out officially on Nov. 12 that the shop’s days are numbered, after Alycia Mallon-Buhle, chairwoman of the Auxiliaries of Riddle Hospital, stopped by to talk with a few volunteers who were on duty. She allegedly left a paper about the closing on a table for other volunteers to read. Kay said another sign was put up with only one week notice, on the shop’s door and on the Riddle Thrift Shop website for consignors to see that no more consignments would be taken after Nov. 22.
“Consignors were arriving with carloads of consignments and had to turn around and go home,” Kay said. “It wasn’t fair how anyone was told. We volunteers are all for hospital advancement, but we are offended by how the volunteers have been informed about all this. We feel taken advantage of because we are unpaid workers, we weren’t worthy of advance notice. If we all had been on the payroll, we probably would be out on the corner with picket signs in hand and have a legitimate complaint about non-communication.”
Marion Brower, has volunteered at the thrift shop for three years, but has shopped there for 40 years.
“We are emotionally hurt by how, after all these years, raising all of this money for the hospital, and generously giving our time and talents, that we would be treated at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to getting information about the closing,” Brower said. “This isn’t just about the volunteers. It’s also about the community. The elderly and others on limited budgets shop here. Many depend on the bargains at the shop so that they can afford their medications or food and other essentials. We are a means for low-cost shopping.”
“After all the hours and all the years that we put into this shop, we feel like we no longer matter and that hurts — it’s belittling,” volunteer Peggie Cacciatore of Brookhaven, who recently received an American Hospital Association 2,000 Hour Award, said sadly.
When asked about those currently working and volunteering at the thrift shop, Coghlan, speaking on behalf of Main Line Health, replied, “Our philosophy is to treat all employees and volunteers with respect and compassion, and we will work diligently with the employed staff to support their transition to a role within the organization or externally. We are hopeful that those who currently volunteer at the thrift shop will be interested in other volunteer positions available within the hospital.”
Volunteers want more information and answers, but are growing frustrated because no one is talking about what happens in February.
“For some reason, everything is hush-hush,” said Ronni McCarthy of Aston, who has volunteered at Riddle Thrift Shop for four years and says the customers, consignors and volunteers are like one big family. “We get shushed every time we ask a question or talk to consignors or shoppers about the closure. Customers are asking us over and over, and I really don’t have too much to tell them. If we had more information, we may not be as upset. It’s like management is under a gag order.”
Kay said the sign that volunteers posted in the shop, encouraging attendance at an upcoming Middletown council meeting, was silently removed by management.
When thrift shop manager Peg Stacy and assistant manager Martha Marino were contacted for information, they both referred all inquiries to Main Line Health public relations department.
Before it’s all said and done, the volunteers hope to rally their local government officials, as well as the community at large, to help them find a suitable site and realize their dream of relocation. They want to continue the hospital auxiliary’s longstanding tradition of supporting Riddle Hospital.
“The volunteers, consignors and shoppers are the heart and soul of Riddle Thrift Shop,” commented Beverly Ferguson of Essington, who has shopped at the thrift shop since she was 17 years old. Now at age 70, she continues to shop and consign. “No matter where it’s located, the people will still come. We hope someone in the community will step forward and offer us another option. We are open to all suggestions and ideas.”
Pat Metzger of Brookhaven, a six-year volunteer at Riddle Thrift Shop, said that she talked to Donna Kaiser, Main Line Health volunteer director, about the closure and possible future relocation.
“I met with Donna and she told me there is no opening on the Riddle campus to assimilate the thrift shop, but that we shouldn’t give up hope,” Metzger said. “We have no contacts for the Main Line Health administration, but wish we knew an administrator or board member to whom we could voice our concerns. After all we have given to the hospital, we would just appreciate the courtesy of meeting with someone in administration to answer our questions and concerns and just listen to us. I think we deserve that.”
The volunteers have not lost hope and would like nothing more than to find a shop, not far from Riddle Memorial Hospital, to do what they have always enjoyed doing — raising money for the hospital. They say that they would like nothing more, than to have Main Line Health’s support in their effort.
In a scan of the program booklet from the Riddle Hospital annual volunteer recognition luncheon held this past April, numerous thrift shop volunteers were honored for hitting milestone service of up to 18,000 hours and 45 years of service.
“At the volunteer luncheon in April, we sat at the Drexelbrook and heard all the speakers talk about how wonderful the volunteers are,” Metzger related. “And then this happened six months later. It made us think that, in reality, we aren’t too valued or appreciated.”
“We’d hate to think it’s all about money and the human impact just doesn’t matter,” Kay chimed in. "We understand it's business and the need to move forward with progress, but there's more to this situation than just closing a building to make room for a parking lot."
“We all feel that closing Riddle Thrift and not relocating is a terrible disservice to the whole community,” said four-year volunteer Janet Gemsheim of Middletown. “It is wrong on so many levels. Many volunteers make this their purpose for getting up in the morning and their social circle. Many consignors come the same day every week and have their own new friendships and small groups that support each other and share time, as well as, the money they get for cleaning out their houses and those of relatives to provide a little extra income. Think of the things that have been repurposed and not disposed of in a landfill - one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. There is always something wonderful and unique to be found there. It is a place for the hospital personnel and visitors to drop in while waiting for loved ones in surgery or a break from a difficult visit. The community at large needs a place to affordably cloth their family and get a book, or a treat that they cannot afford otherwise. Main Line Health is supposed to be a haven and healing place for this community, but they are only looking at the bottom line, not the people factor. Closing the thrift shop will be a huge loss for this hospital and all these people if the thrift shop cannot continue somewhere else.”
Shopper Nancy Schober feels the pain of the closing. “The Riddle Thrift Shop is a wonderful story of a 'Riddle' family of salaried employees and a larger group of devoted, loyal volunteers working side by side to make Riddle successful over these many years. The shop has been multi-generational with grandmothers, daughters and grandchildren who have visited, consigned, shopped and purchased. Some people made it an outing to visit the shop then catch lunch. Some people stopped at the shop after visiting someone at the hospital. Others came to consign to earn some cash. Riddle Thrift Shop has a story to be told and that should be heard. It should not face its demise with just a whimper with all the good deeds it has provided for not only the community but many others that visited the shop.”
In addition to the loss of community and fellowship created by the shop, volunteers and shoppers also cite the shop’s rich history as another reason to continue its existence.
The September 2019 issue of the RiddleGram, a newsletter published by the Associated Auxiliaries of Riddle Memorial Hospital since 1959, reviewed the history of the Riddle Thrift Shop. According to the article, the auxiliaries opened a thrift shop in Media in 1961. In the 1960s, there were 17 auxiliaries and 700 members. The Riddle Thrift Shop started on Monroe Street in Media in a building leased for $125 a month. They were given $7,000 to finance the first year of operation.
Each auxiliary was responsible for operating the shop for two weeks. The shop moved several times over the next ten years and made a profit of $70,000 along the way. In April 1972, the Associated Auxiliaries Board agreed to loan the Riddle Thrift Shop $30,000 to begin construction of a new building on the grounds of Riddle Hospital. Southeast National Bank loaned the additional $100,000 needed. The doors of the new shop opened on March 13, 1973. The $100,000 loan was paid by February 1975 with the help of the Women’s Board.
By the end of 1975, the Riddle Thrift Shop had repaid the Associated Auxiliaries in full. Total cost of the 6,000 square-foot building and 24 parking spaces was $143,087. A two story addition was added in 1983 at a cost of $160,797. The parking lot was enlarged at a cost of $21,500. A freight elevator was added in 1997. The thrift shop went from a tiny rented space on Monroe Street in 1961 to a two-story 10,000 square-foot building by 1983. The shop has contributed close to $4 million to the Associated Auxiliaries.
“Closing Riddle Thrift Shop is a community issue, not just a loss to the consignors, shoppers and volunteers,” Kay remarked. “We hope a church or school or anyone with property or vacant space will come forward and offer their site for the thrift shop relocation.”
Although no longer taking consignments, Riddle Thrift Shop plans to be open for shopping until Jan. 31. No going-out-of-business sales on in-store merchandise have been announced as of this date.
For more information, hours of operation, or updates about the closure, visit www.riddlethriftshop.com.