It started as a last-gasp effort to keep the Pasadena Auxiliary of Boys Republic in Chino in business.
After 71 years, the volunteers held their last rummage sale in March, 1986, saying they were "too old and too tired" to carry on.
But these women knew their rummage, and they weren't about to throw it all away.
Rather than abandon their charity entirely, they went into the thrift store business and moved into permanent quarters at 2261 N. Lake Ave. in Altadena.
In its first year, the store grossed $104,500. Subtracting start-up expenses, the auxiliary gave the school $78,500, more than double the amount its members had raised in each of the last few years from rummage sales.
"Now we have another success story," said Marjorie Rees, a past president who helped engineer the transition.
Auxiliary members, including Rees and Carol Henderson, who serves as the group's business manager, persuaded Boys Republic to buy the building the thrift shop occupies, next to the Altadena Post Office. Now the school also receives rent from the thrift shop, two other businesses and an apartment.
The auxiliary works year-round to help support Boys Republic, a home and school in Chino for about 150 teen-age boys who are wards of Juvenile Court.
Since its first rummage sale in 1915, the auxiliary has given Boys Republic more than $1 million. The money has been used to build a swimming pool and a chapel, furnish the home's six cottages and provide scholarships, medical expenses, books and magazines for the boys.
The auxiliary grew to 150 active members and had a waiting list for many years. But it dwindled in the 1970s, when more women began working outside the home. Now it has about 40 active members with an average age of 65.
"We are the last generation for whom volunteer work was part of our lives," said Rees, who worked on about 25 Boys Republic rummage sales and headed the final one.
Joan McLaughlin, treasurer for the auxiliary, said the 1986 sale netted $36,500 and the 1985 sale $22,600. Volunteers had to be recruited for both sales because auxiliary members could not handle all the work.
"We just gave out," Rees said.
Members say it's easier to man the thrift shop than to sort and tag the hundreds of items they sold every year at the sale.
Now each member, wearing a blue smock, works a minimum of 15 hours a month at the shop, which is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and from noon to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays.
Some of the hardest work is keeping the shelves stocked with merchandise. It comes in continually and sells fast.
Entire estates are given to the auxiliary, and members must sort through piles of goods ranging from dirty, unusable items to Madeira tablecloths or fine jewelry.
Donations that are stained, torn, broken or unusable are given to other charitable organizations, which give them away.
The auxiliary accepts almost everything except mattresses, pillows and large appliances. Things that need laundering are washed and pressed in the store's laundry room.
At least one-fourth of the merchandise is new and is donated regularly by three Pasadena-area stores.
On a recent day, customers browsed among several new rabbit-fur jackets and several antiques, including a rocking chair, a sewing machine and a typewriter. A designer women's suit that would normally sell for about $200 was marked at $40.
Volunteers say many regular customers drop in more than once a week. One favorite is an elderly man who raised three small children after his wife died and put them through college. He browses for books and recently treated workers to a concert on his harmonica. "He was very good," Henderson said.
Another regular is a woman with eight children and four foster children. She has relied on thrift shops to dress them for years, she said, "and they always looked better than anyone else in school."
Rose Lewis of Altadena, another frequent customer, said she stops by every time she is in the neighborhood.
"I never go to the post office without sticking my head in here," she said. "Sometimes--like today--I find an armload of things I want. But even when it's just one thing, it's worth the trip. This is so much fun, it's become kind of a hobby."