When Lynn Nardolillo became the latest owner of The Donate Shop, she took on a challenge.
Previous owners had let not only the quality of the shop suffer, but had amassed a number of bills. Nardolillo took ownership a month ago, but she still needs help.
While she is thankful the building’s owner is maintaining a reasonable rent, she has many other bills to take care of and relationships to rebuild. Nardolillo needed to purchase two small space heaters for the store because the gas company has turned off the heat due to months of unpaid bills that she is now responsible for.
“I want to get a lot of things going,” said Nardolillo on her goals for the future of the store. “I need the community’s help.”
Over the past month, Nardolillo has been working to spread the word about The Donate Shop, looking for donations, fundraising ideas, government grants, business sponsors and anything else she can think of.
“Everyone I have come in contact with, I try to see if they have any ideas,” said Nardolillo.
One idea is to place a large donation box outside the store for people who drop off clothing or other items after the store is closed. Nardolillo noticed people were leaving bags of donations outside the door, but due to weather, they were getting wet and damaged.
Taking control of The Donate Shop on March 15, Nardolillo took the time to go through the inventory and clean the building. She says much of the clothing was old and un-wearable, and the organization of the store made it impossible to find things. Customers who enter The Donate Shop now comment on how well Nardolillo has done cleaning up the place.
“It looks much neater, more organized,” said Sandra Cota, a Warwick resident who used to go to the store but had not been there since Nardolillo took over. Cota commented that she felt the new layout would make it easier to find things.
Meeting the previous owner through a mutual friend, Nardolillo, a former ambulance driver, had a conversation about her vision for the store. She says the previous owner loved her ideas and passed over the business.
The store has been open for 13 years and Nardolillo is the fourth owner.
“At one point in time, this place served a really great purpose,” said Nardolillo.
The purpose of the store is to provide clothing, shoes, games, jewelry, small appliances, toys, etc. to the needy, less fortunate or homeless in the community. According to Narolillo, individuals “can buy good clothing for a more reasonable price than they could find anywhere else.”
She also hopes to expand The Donate Shop into the empty space next door to sell larger furniture and more appliances. She has already collected many items and is storing them at her home on West Shore Road until she has a place to put them.
The store is a 501 ©(3) non-profit, but is not making much money yet.
“It’s all coming out of my pocket right now, but I don’t mind,” said Nardolillo, who survives off of TDI and provides for her children with Survivor Benefits. She says as long as she can cover her own living expenses, the store will hopefully begin to pay for itself in time.
Nardolillo is amazed with the donations that have been coming in because of word-of-mouth in just a month. A local jewelry store was closing and the owner donated her entire stock of brand new costume jewelry. The Blue Knights motorcycle group dropped off two large boxes of new women’s clothing with tags on. Another man brought in a box of men’s shorts, also with the tags on.
Nardolillo will also spend her evenings searching newspapers and the Internet for yard and estate sales. She sends them e-mails explaining the purpose of her store and asking if they are willing to donate anything.
“They are obviously struggling, which is why they are having a yard sale. Yet, they are willing to give away their stuff so others can have it,” she said.
Nardolillo also has amazing support from her family and friends. She reached out to them first for donations, and many are helping her with fundraising and word-of-mouth advertising. Her boyfriend, Charles Mulvey, helps her with the day-to-day store operations and passes out flyers; he also will watch the store while Nardolillo goes out to pick up donations.
A friend, Maximo Caba, serves as Nardolillo’s vice president and does a lot of work in Providence, traveling to different shelters and non-profits to spread the word about The Donate Shop.
Nardolillo’s two biggest supporters, however, are her two youngest children, Alexia and Nicholas Barratt. Alexia is 15 years old and attends Warwick Veterans High School; Nicholas is 14 and attends Gorton Junior High School. Nardolillo also has two older children.
In addition to working at the store every day after school, her children have taken to advertising, creating flyers and business cards. They travel door-to-door in the area to try and get donations; they have also started selling candy bars to help raise the funds to pay bills and get the store to a sustainable place.
Nardollilo hopes spending time at the store will instill a business sense in both her children and she plans to teach them how to work the register and manage the books.
Nardollilo has a vision for The Donate Shop, not only expanding the store but eventually sponsoring a center for kids in town.
“There is nowhere for kids to go,” said Nardolillo, recalling bringing her kids to a center above Domingo’s in Warwick, a jewelry store. The owner had turned the area above his store into a center for kids with pool tables, games and snacks.
“It provided a place for my kids to go after school,” said Nardolillo.
She also provides for kids by allowing them to volunteer for community service hours at the store. When trying to find places for her kids to volunteer, Nardollilo found many places required kids to be 18 or older. She feels The Donate Shop will provide a fun environment for students to spend time together while completing volunteer hours.
“We accept any age,” said Nardolillo. “They can fold clothes, they can sort clothes, tag items and anything else we need.”
Nardolillo’s passion for the store and helping people is evident. Upon entering, another customer complimented her on how great the store looks and what a great job she has done in the month since opening.
“People come in saying the store looks great. It makes me feel good,” said Nardolillo.
“I used to donate to Big Brothers, Big Sisters; I am coming here now,” said Cota.
The new hours for The Donate Shop are Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. The Donate Shop is located at 400 Warwick Avenue.