New Life Thrift Shop has long been on the list of people who are looking to save money.
Shoppers in search of clothing, shoes, furniture, dishes, pots and pans, large appliances, sewing machines, books, bric-a-brac, framed art, sports equipment, jewelry and just about anything else always check out the shop on Route 1 north of Midway.
The store always has something new, and in June it acquired Maura Jenkins, its first paid general manager since it opened about 20 years ago.
The Lewes Rehoboth Association of Churches owns and operates the shop; more than 18 Cape Region churches are members.
Changes in how the store is managed have caused some longtime volunteers to angrily part ways with the shop, and LRAC has been taking a closer look at how the shop operates.
Some volunteers left the shop since Jenkins arrived, but others are still working there, said the Rev. Jeffrey Ross, LRAC president and pastor of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Lewes.
Ross has been LRAC president for a couple months, just beginning a two-year term. He said the shop takes in about $500,000 a year.
He said he was not a member of the panel of thrift store volunteers that selected Jenkins and recommended hiring her from a field of more than 50 applicants.
Jenkins, 51, previously a resident of Newville, Pa., said she owned a roofing company that went out of business when the recession hit. She said her mother lives near Lewes.
“I saw an ad in the Cape Gazette, and I only applied for that one job, and I got it,” she said beaming during a recent interview in the shop after closing.
She said when she started, the shop had several assistant managers known as day managers, who had been running the store, and each had a different way of doing things.
There were too many management styles and personalities that didn’t necessarily work well together, Jenkins said.
Some volunteers said they quit; others said Jenkins fired them.
“Change can be hard for people,” she said, adding some quit because they opposed hiring a paid general manager. Jenkins said her salary is $45,000 a year and, because she’s new, she has been working 12-hour days.
Supporting general manager
Ross said he has heard only positive comments from customers about Jenkins and the store’s new look.
“She’s reversed a trend and helped us increase revenue in the past several months. She begins the day with prayer; I see this as all positive,” Ross said.
He said the store is cleaner, there’s less clutter and Jenkins is watchful of situations that could violate state fire marshal regulations.
“Volunteers are the shop’s lifeblood,” Jenkins said. Of about 30 the shop had before she started only about 15 regulars remain.
“We could always use more volunteers, especially men who like to fix things,” Jenkins said.
The condition of every item the store sells has been examined; one volunteer looks at shoes and reconditions the ones that can be sold; others look at clothing, furniture or house wares.
“We’re not willing to violate Christian principles,” Ross said, referring to volunteers who have been gossiping about Jenkins and criticizing her clothing, her pronunciation of Jesus and what she’s done in the past.
Ross said he visited the store incognito, wearing a hoodie to hide his face, and observed Jenkins at work.
He said he saw and heard someone hurling obscenities at her, and she remained calm. “She’s the staff member we have, and we need to support her work,” he said.
Former and current volunteers have sent several letters to LRAC and to Ross describing Jenkins’ management style.
Among those volunteers who agreed to a group interview Nov. 7 were Murray Barger, Barbara Eshelman, Bill Heronemus, Christine Mickel, Peg Sullivan, Mike Tyler and Karen Yancy.
With the exception of Yancy, those of the group still volunteering declined to be named or quoted fearing firing for having done so.
Collectively, the group said Jenkins has poor management skills, no people skills, does not value volunteers, and is sometimes disrespectful of customers.
Jenkins said she realizes her job of imposing structure in an operation that previously had little doesn’t sit well with volunteers who have a sense of entitlement.
“I’ve managed people before, and I knew what I was walking into wasn’t going to be easy. I don't take any of what's being said about me personally, but I don't want anything to distract from the shop's mission,'” she said.
Lewes resident Mike Tyler said he and wife, Hope, had been volunteers for more than three years. Tyler said he worked with cameras, books and audio items. “She never regarded any of the expertise I had in those areas,” he said.
Tyler said when he offered suggestions, Jenkins would tell him he didn’t know anything because he only worked one day a week.
When he tried to talk to her about how things were done in the store, Tyler said, she’d tell him it wasn’t a conversation to have on the sales floor.
“There’s a difference between a boss and a leader. That’s where the problem is, she’s the boss, but she’s not a leader. She doesn’t communicate, she never communicated with me at all,” Tyler said.
Barbara Eshelman said she too witnessed volunteers trying to tell Jenkins how things had worked in the past and explaining there were good ideas that were different than hers, but she didn’t want to hear it, Eshelman said.
"Jenkins would snap, 'It doesn’t matter, I’m the general manager. Too bad. You don’t like it, get out,'” Eshelman said. Jenkins would tell volunteers that if they didn’t want to be there and work with a joyous heart, then they should leave because there are other places they could volunteer, Eshelman said.
Tyler said he saw a regular thrift shop customer outside the store and, unsolicited, the man said the way Jenkins treats volunteers is horrible.
“He saw it. He said ‘The place looks better, but the way she’s treating people, I can’t believe you guys are still volunteers.’ I said I’m not there anymore,” Tyler said.
Ross said rules are in place for handling grievances, and volunteers know this. He said the thrift store committee is developing a comprehensive set of personnel policies and procedures and has been using a similar document written by an earlier general manager.
“We had to build the plane while we were flying it,” he said.
Eshelman said three volunteers met with Ross to explain what was happening. She said Ross told them the matter needed to be discussed at the thrift shop committee meeting.
“It fell on deaf ears because after that, we weren’t allowed to come,” Eshelman said. She said Ross made that decision.
Ross said the women submitted a lengthy document containing their concerns, but they were not allowed to speak to the committee because they had not requested to be placed on the agenda.
The group said they think it is hard for a committee that meant well to face up to their bad decision.
Volunteers who have split with the shop said they would return if Jenkins were no longer general manager.
Ross said he has confidence in Jenkins, and she has LRAC’s support. “The shop has Christian hospitality and is welcoming. We’re moving in the right direction,” he said.
Volunteers who have quit would be welcomed back, Ross said, as long as they complied with directions from LRAC and the shop general manager and stopped criticizing both.
“We believe in reconciliation and have a desire for understanding. My door is open, but I will not support character assassination,” Ross said.
New Life Thrift Shop is located at 34686 Jiffy Way. For additional information call the shop at 644-0171, or go to firstname.lastname@example.org.