A thrift store where everyone knows your name

Oyster Bay's Hope for L.I. store offers a more personal kind of shopping


People come to Hope for Long Island Thrift Store for a variety of reasons, says its manager, Joe Scibelli.
Sure, they’re looking to take home a treasure or two, but often they leave with so much more. Because Hope is the type of business where employees and volunteers tend to know their customers’ first names, there is feeling of responsibility to satisfy their needs, whatever they may be.

“Some customers talk about what’s going on in their lives — some are just looking for someone to talk to,” Scibelli said. “I love the social interaction with the customers, and they seem to love us. They tell me coming here is a nice escape.”

Hope, which is run by Oyster Bay’s North Shore Community Church, originally set up shop in the hamlet’s Buckingham Old Fashioned Variety Store in 2006, renting a portion of the store. But when the variety store closed in 2015, Hope moved to a larger space around the corner, on Audrey Avenue, behind the original location of the Oyster Bay Rail Road Museum.

North Shore’s pastor, the Rev. John Yenchko, had the idea of opening a thrift shop, having done so at his previous church in Philadelphia. All of Hope’s profits go to the church’s Benevolent Fund, which serves single mothers, youth ministries and community outreach programs.

“Hope for Long Island is offering, well, hope, for those who need help, and a shopping adventure for those who love a good bargain,” Yenchko said. “There is a delightful thrift store subculture on Long Island, and people are always looking for a bargain. They’re glad to donate their gently used clothing and household items when they know it’s going to a good cause.”

Seven of the nine people who work at the store are volunteers, one of whom is Barbara Groff, of Syosset, who said she is committed to organizing the racks of clothing and the wide variety of items on the shelves. A retiree, she said that volunteering at Hope is a great way for her to be with people, but it provides even more.

“Here I’m blessed to be a blessing to others,” Groff said. “To know that the money being raised is for those in need makes me want to be here.”

Doris Minogue, of Hicksville, a staff member who started out as a volunteer, feels much the same way. “For me, being here is a ministry for God,” she said. “And I hear a lot of interesting stories here, because people are interesting.”

Scibelli has been managing the store since last July, after Karen Connolly, who had been in charge since Hope’s beginnings, moved to Tennessee. Scibelli is a retired New York City program manager, and managed the A&P grocery store in Great Neck in the 1970s.

He and his wife, Cathy, had donated to Hope for years. When Cathy was diagnosed with cancer, Joe, who was depressed, wandered into the thrift store. “Karen asked me what was wrong, and when I told her about Cathy, she prayed with me,” Scibelli said. “I had signed up to be a volunteer, and a couple of months after I stopped in, Karen called me up and asked if I could be a volunteer.”

When Cathy died in April 2018, Joe donated her clothing to Hope. He increased his volunteer hours, because he found that being at Hope was therapeutic. When Connolly said she was moving, Yenchko asked Scibelli to take over.

“He had huge shoes to fill when Karen moved,” Yenchko said. “We’re absolutely delighted that Joe is the new leader of our thrift store. He has a great background in retail, and even more than that, he loves serving people.”

Scibelli remains impressed by the variety of items that are donated. Someone once donated a Fender guitar, and someone else gave the store a piece of African art. An entire collection of vintage comic books was a recent gift.

“The nice thing is, things are being reused instead of landing in a landfill,” Scibelli said. “Thrift shops used to have a bad connotation, that it was for poor people and sold garbage. There’s a whole community out there that go from one thrift shop to another. We even have tourists who have a free day and come here.”

High school and college students stop by, too. The clothes are cheap, so they save money, Scibelli continued. And people planning yard sales drop by as well.

The biggest change since Scibelli took over is the opening of the second floor. Once a storage area, it is now filled with racks of summer clothing. He also made cosmetic changes that included adding shelving units.

And Hope is now on Facebook, where upcoming sales are posted.

“Sales have increased over the year as word of mouth about the quality of our store gets out,” Yenchko said. “Satisfied customers are Hope’s best advertising.”

The coronavirus pandemic helped sales, too, Scibelli said. “People are looking for deals,” he explained. “Our new customers are saying they have discovered thrift shops.”

Hope carries toys, books and household items as well as clothing. Scibelli said it sells everything from soup to nuts, adding with a smile that he has received cans of soup and hardware.

He is highly complimentary of the volunteers who have made Hope a success. Last Friday night, the store was robbed. “One of the volunteers called today and said, ‘I’m going to replace the money stolen,’” Scibelli marveled on Tuesday. “We are definitely more than four walls here.”

Hope accepts gently used clothing, DVDs, books, toys, glassware and household items. Located at 98A Audrey Ave., in Oyster Bay, it is open Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call (516) 800-2871 or email hopethrift@nscc.live.