MICHELLE T. BERNARD
When Shasta Steele opened Amy’s Closet in Denver four years ago, the board members of the Lincoln County Coalition Against Domestic Violence (LCCADV) who operate Amy’s House, a Lincoln County shelter for those suffering from domestic violence, didn’t think it would work. The Denver store and the second store in Lincolnton, which opened a year ago, have far exceeded expectations and have become the financial backbone that Amy’s House needed. Funds raised by the two stores are donated directly to LCCADV and, to date, more than $100,000 has been donated.
“Amy’s House was frequently in some kind of financial trouble,” said Steele, who has been a member of the LCCADV board for seven years. “The grants that we applied for just didn’t go far enough to meet our needs. There were times when we had to close our doors because we had no way to pay people to stay.”
Amy’s House has to have 24-hour coverage due to safety reasons for the “girls,” as Steele calls them.
That Amy’s House had to close its doors, potentially leaving women and children in danger of domestic violence, troubled Steele because she herself was a victim of domestic violence. This was back in the 1970s before there were places like Amy’s House and if you called the police they’d say they couldn’t get involved in domestic matters. Even though she said that she stayed two years longer than she should have, Steele was one of the lucky ones who got out of a domestic violence situation alive.
Approximately three years after she had been on the board, Amy’s House had a yard sale and made $1,000. After that success, Steele suggested that they open a resale shop but she was told that they had tried that before and it didn’t work.
“They had a thrift store called the Purple Shoe and it didn’t do well because they were paying people to run it,” Steele said. “I thought to myself ‘there’s got to be a way.’”
While on a trip to Florida with her husband, Steele discovered that on every street corner there was a thrift shop set up to benefit various causes.
“I started going in them and speaking to the people,” she said. “Some of them were dirty and had boxes of items that people had to go through but even those said that they did well as far as raising money for their causes.”
Steele returned to North Carolina on a mission. She started to do research on running a thrift shop and called the Small Business Bureau for guidance. She went back to the LCCADV board and asked them to let her open a shop. At first they said no and continued to say no for the next three or four months.
“I think to shut me up they told me to prepare a business plan, find a place to rent, get an angel loan and we’ll talk about it,” she said. “I had all of that done by the next board meeting and they said ‘well, we did tell you we’d let you try.’”
After the board saw the space that Steele had arranged to rent in Denver they told her to have a go at it but that they wanted her to handle it and they didn’t want to hear about any problems.
“That’s what I did,” she said. “We started it up and our landlord helped us with the rent for a little while. I had an angel investor that gave us the up-front money to get us started. We paid him back in three years.”
Since Amy’s Closet opened four years ago, the doors at Amy’s House have remained open.
“Our community has been very responsive in donating clothing and household goods to Amy’s Closets in both Denver and Lincolnton,” Steele said.
In addition to clothing and household donations, both shops have a donation jar. Steele opened a savings account with that money and right now she has between $4,000 and $5,000 in the account. Her long-range goal is to build a new shelter. Amy’s House is a four-room former mill house that has been built up with additions. Because of its age, it’s hard to heat and cool and the power bills are exorbitant, according to Steele.
Comfortably, Amy’s House can house 18 women and children but can supplement space if necessary for up to 21 people. Given that current statistics show that one in four women will be abused at least once in her lifetime, Steele believes that a larger shelter would better serve the community.
“I don’t think they thought Amy’s Closet was going to work and it would fail,” Steele said. “I think we’ve exceeded expectations. I know it’s exceeded mine, a lot more than I expected.”
The Amy’s Closet Denver location is in the Westport Shoppes. The Lincolnton store is at 201 South Cedar Street. Given Amy’s House is in the Lincolnton city limits, the opening of the Lincolnton shop has made it easier for those staying at the shelter to shop, according to Steele.
“We are very proud of our Amy’s Closet stores,” LCCADV executive director Robert Dalton said. “They are not only a great source for financial stability for the organization but beyond that they also serve as a place that we can bring people in to learn more about domestic violence. They don’t just sell clothing and other items but they educate people about domestic violence and that’s as important to us as is everything else they are doing. It also allows many of our clients that we serve to shop for gently used clothing.”
Amy’s Closet in Lincolnton is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Denver is open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. For more information or to give donations of gently used clothing, visit the shops while they are open or call (704) 483-5515 for the Denver shop or (704) 240-3688 for the Lincolnton shop.