NHH Auxiliary celebrates a half-century at Petticoat Lane

By Cecilia Nasmith

In 1968, the Northumberland Hills Hospital Auxiliary opened the Petticoat Lane thrift shop.

Half a century later, the volunteer-run retail establishment has raised almost $2.5-million for the hospital.

On Thursday, auxiliary volunteers celebrated the anniversary (and the achievement) with coffee, cake and a 50% off sale at the Cobourg store. They had also created wonderful collages of significant people and highlights of an amazing half-century.

Just as the hospital it supports has had several changes of names and a significant change of location, the auxiliary has changed as well. For example, it was a ladies' auxiliary at the time Petticoat Lane opened.

The story of Petticoat Lane has been set down by auxiliary volunteers through voluminous scrapbooks outlining a simple but great notion that they would be celebrating 50 years later.

Minutes of the November 1968 meeting mention a discussion on the advisability of opening what they termed an Opportunity Shop, a volunteer-staffed outlet to sell nearly-new clothing and miscellaneous household articles. Pat Haworth and some members of the executive toured an Opportunity Shop at the Belleville hospital and were impressed by its success.

A Nov. 27 note reports the rental of space at 201 Third St., and the clean-up and alterations made in hopes of a Dec. 6 opening. Preparations included a request for such donations as an ironing board, a steam iron, four hardwood chairs, two bookcases and two full-length mirrors.

The Dec. 6 opening did materialize. Five volunteers made themselves available to pick up goods from donors' homes, and it was originally a consignment arrangement – a 50-50 split between the shop and the donor.

By April 1970, Pat Howarth reported that buyers were coming from as far away as Lindsay and Bancroft, and that customers were requesting longer business hours.

Three months later, it was deemed that the shop had outgrown its premises. It was relocated to larger quarters at 93 King St. W. Through the years, the operation would repeat the process when needed, moving to Division Street, back to King Street, into Midtown Mall and finally (in February 2010) to their current location at 25 Munroe Street (behind the Beer Store).

The volunteer management could boast considerable financial acumen (and, therefore, profit). A December 1983 newspaper report revealed that Petticoat Lane proceeds over six years were $452,000, The article also gave credit to the volunteers on the front line who were selecting, repairing, cleaning, pricing and arranging displays. It stated that they considered the store successful beyond the hopes of its original organizers.

The write-up by the auxiliary offered two secrets of Petticoat Lane's success. For one thing, it satisfies a community need. For another, it is run by dedicated and efficient volunteers who continue to satisfy that need.

Since its 1968 opening, Petticoat Lane has raised $2,384,794.

Their current location is a good one, Petticoat Lane coordinator Lorrie Phipps said, offering convenience not only in terms of transportation routes but in proximity to a wide variety of shopping.

The volunteers do their behind-the scenes work in the curtained-off room on the west end of their retail space, and the atmosphere is bustling and friendly. From the hands-on work of ensuring donations of used merchandise are at their best to the more artistic work of arranging attractive displays, everyone pitches in with good cheer to make it come together.

The result, Phipps said, is a store that offers great merchandise and a shopping experience that is like a treasure hunt.

“We pledge over $100,000 a year, and we have always made our pledge – and sometimes more,” Phipps said.

“It's a good place to support the hospital, but also to bring your unwanted goods so they don't end up in the landfill. So everybody becomes part of the hospital in their own little way.”

On the wall behind Phipps, in the back room where the volunteers work, is the huge cheque reflecting their donation two years ago - with the notation on the subject line that the auxiliary had raised more than $1-million for the hospital since it opened at its current location and changed its name to Northumberland Hills Hospital in 2003.

Among the honoured guests for the 50th-anniversary celebration was NHH president and chief executive officer Linda Davis, who was drafted for cake-cutting duty.

“On behalf of the patients we serve and the staff and physicians, thank you so much for what you do,” Davis said.