GLENCOE – Step inside the North Shore Exchange upscale resale shop in downtown Glencoe and you will be hard pressed to tell on the surface that all of the merchandise in the store is used. The emphasis should clearly be placed on upscale, since everything about the store — from the Chanel handbags to the upholstered chairs — seems to glitter.
But for the 30 to 40 volunteers who run North Shore Exchange, the emphasis is on its mission: to provide funding to organizations that offer human services to impoverished children. One hundred percent of the store’s proceeds is donated to organizations throughout the Midwest as well as locally to Family Services of Glencoe.
“We have a really strong group of volunteers,” Wendy Serrino, president of the North Shore Exchange board, told DailyNorthShore.com
Since first opening in March 2013, the North Shore Exchange has established a reputation and a large group of loyal followers who come from all over the North Shore, Chicagoland and some even from Wisconsin.
The building, located at 372 Hazel Avenue, is owned by the Woman’s Library Club of Glencoe, which ran a thrift shop in the storefront for about 80 years. While the club’s shop was also philanthropic, it wasn’t earning sufficient returns and the building became run-down over the years. Roberta Olshansky and Lois Scheyer — both involved with the Library Club — came up with the idea of an upscale resale shop and approached others interested in the idea.
Serrino’s background as a professional in marketing at Kraft provided the skills to write a business plan for the new nonprofit organization. The building was in such poor condition, but a local architect and interior designer donated their time to rehab the space. “(They) reimagined the inside of this space and they did it all for free,” Serrino said.
North Shore Exchange was formed as a nonprofit with a board of directors and raised the funds to completely renovate the building from top to bottom. The result is a sleek space, with high open ceilings and large storefront windows shedding ample light on the store. Racks of designer women’s clothes run the parameter of the space, while cases full of designer accessories and furniture and home decor are on display throughout the store.
When DailyNorthShore stopped by on Sept. 30, decorative artwork picked up on a family’s trip to Africa was displayed on a glass coffee table, ranging in price from $125 to $195. A large vintage Kilim rug priced at $895 lay next to a dining table covered in crystalware. The store sells a broad range of women’s fashion, but only higher-end fashion brands such as St. John, Michael Kors or Burberry.
All of the merchandise that is either donated or sold on consignment is carefully curated by volunteers before entering the store. Everything is in excellent condition — dry cleaned and free of wrinkles and stains. While some of the items sell up to $8,000, there are plenty of items priced more affordably. “We try to have it be something for everyone but really nice things,” Serrino said. Items that do not sell (and are not on consignment) are donated to organizations with a shared mission, such as the Salvation Army.
In the past three years, North Shore Exchange has experienced steady growth and success. Last year sales grew by 22% and profits went up by 48%. Since 2013, the nonprofit has donated a total of $700,000 to charities. “I would like to get to a million dollars in less than five years,” Serrino said. Of the $275,000 donated in 2016, some of that money went to organizations such as Northern Illinois Food Bank, Family Focus, Inc. and CASA Lake County.
Part of that success can be attributed to the mission-oriented organization. Serrino said all of the volunteers really care about the mission and there is very little turn-over. One of the store rules is that volunteers cannot buy an item until it has been on the floor for at least two days. “We want our customers to have the first choice always,” Serrino said. Most volunteers work four to eight hours a week, with some dedicating more time.
North Shore Exchange is always trying new ways to keep the store vibrant. The store holds a vintage fur sale the first two weeks of November every year and donates unsold furs to people who are homeless. “If you are homeless and you are cold there is nothing better than a fur coat,” Serrino said. It also has an “insiders” offer — donate $100 and you’ll receive a full year of special invitations to shop at the store.
As the North Shore Exchange works toward its mission, those involved have discovered that they’ve created something meaningful. Serrino noted there are really three communities of people involved with North Shore Exchange: the volunteers who run the store, loyal shoppers and a dedicated community of consignors and people who donate merchandise. “It’s really a unique thing,” she remarked. “It was an unintended benefit. I didn’t know that would come of this whole (effort),” she said.
North Shore Exchange is located at 372 Hazel Avenue, Glencoe. The store is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For more information go to www.northshoreexchange.org.