The newly opened Catholic Charities Thrift store in Portland got a sign this week as well as a rave review from veteran bargain shopper Sarah Harriman of Bath, as she checked out with a stack of clothing.

“I’ve been thrift store shopping since the ’70s, and this is a good one … clean and neat with good-quality merchandise,” Harriman said, as other shoppers rifled through clothing racks and perused rows of furniture and shelves of housewares.

The steady flow of customers into the former Goodwill store in Union Station Plaza on St. John Street is good news for Catholic Charities. It’s the first such store in Portland for the organization, a part of the Roman Catholic Diocese that provides an array of social service programs.

“This is such a win-win,” said Catholic Charities CEO Steve Letourneau. “Our community gets to reuse and recycle goods, people who can’t afford new goods have a place to shop, and we get to provide jobs and use the revenue to support our other programs.”

The Portland operation was modeled after one that Catholic Charities has been running in Aroostook County for more than eight years, the revenue from which sustains 26 food pantries, Letourneau said.

“As the need for Catholic Charities services has grown, the thrift store has been able to offset the cuts to funding. We thought, ‘Why aren’t we doing this in Portland?’ and we started planning for the store in this location about a year ago,” he said.

The store joins a plethora of second-hand shops in the Portland area, including Goodwill, Salvation Army, Material Objects, Find, Encore and St. Vincent De Paul. But Letourneau said the Catholic Charities store is different.

It has had the advantage of partnering with a private, for-profit company, Olympia Sports, whose owner is on the Board of Catholic Charities. Olympia Sports has donated flats of new clothing to the store, and advised Catholic Charities on where to locate the store and how to manage it efficiently.

The store has attracted a steady stream of customers since a ribbon-cutting ceremony last Saturday.

“We’ve been really busy and had a lot of generous donations,” said manager Bill Wood. “The space was previously occupied by a Goodwill store, and I think people really missed shopping here.”

Inside the 10,000-square-foot space, colorful arrays of clothing are neatly sectioned into categories — pants, skirts, blazers, dresses. Shelves of glassware, dishes, small figurines and photo frames rattle as a train passes nearby.

A woman walks in from work and Wood shows her a simple wooden shelf on wheels for $15. A young boy proudly thrusts a $1 stuffed Pokemon character at the cashier.

“This is the home of the 50-cent knickknack,” said Wood. “We really want to maintain low prices for the people that shop here.”

Pauline Luluba is one of six paid employees at the store. The job is her first since moving to the United States from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where she owned a small shop herself.

“I’m happy to be among the pioneers, as this store is just getting started,” she said. “There is good teamwork here with all the workers and volunteers.”

A Mother Theresa prayer is printed on the wall behind the cash register. “The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.”

Staff Writer Colleen Stewart can be contacted at 791-6355 or at:

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