Tucked away in a tiny shop along Main Street in Historic Downtown Berlin you’ll find the Church Mouse Thrift Shop. However, it’s more than just your standard thrift shop. With over 50 years of deeply rooted history in the local community, a strong connection to the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and countless hours and funding dedicated to various fundraisers and community non-profits, the Church Mouse is what we consider the super hero of thrift shops. We caught up with Church Shop Director Helen Wiley this week for a behind the scenes look at the local thrift store that has touched so many lives over the past 50 years.
“It’s about more than just clothes,” explained Wiley. “It’s about being able to have somewhere to go, and someone to talk to…to share your stories and see a friendly face.” The Church Mouse is staffed entirely by volunteers, many of whom have been working in the store for several years. With its downtown Berlin location, the thrift shop has become a friendly place to stop for a visit. “It’s almost a ministry of sorts,” said Wiley, adding that they have several visitors from out of state that go out of their way to stop in the store. In addition, the shop has developed a ‘pay it forward’ effect over the years, with many individuals that once found themselves in need of clothing and help, turning around to give back to the Church Mouse once they’ve gotten back on their feet.
The Church Mouse Thrift Shop traces its roots back 50 years to when the Atlantic Hotel housed three small stores along the Jefferson Street side of the building. The thrift shop was then relocated to Old Ocean City Blvd. and Main Street where it was actually operated out of a warehouse with dirt floors and kerosene heat before upgrading to the old Donoway Furniture location. Finally, the store found its true home at its current location on Main Street where it has been happily serving locals and visitors for the past 30 years.
Obviously the focal point of the thrift shop is the merchandise. You can find anything from costume jewelry to wedding dresses to kitchen supplies. Wiley noted that books and jewelry are easily the most popular items. Wiley rotates items seasonally and no item goes to waste. In fact, anything that is not sold at the shop will eventually go to Goodwill.
What many people don’t realize is that the Church Mouse centers on more than selling used items. “It really is a different operation than most thrift shops,” explained Wiley. For starters, all of the money raised goes towards outreach programs, 90 percent of which stays local. The outreach varies from assisting local families in need to contributing to local food pantries. “If we find out that something has happened locally, whether it’s a tragedy or a fire, we help out however we can,” said Wiley. The Church Mouse also contributes money each month to Meals on Wheels (which in turn covers two peoples’ costs each month), donates regularly to the food pantry at the Baptist Church in Berlin as well as Worcester County Youth and Family Counseling Services, G.O.L.D, the Cricket Center (Worcester County’s Child Advocacy Center), the Development Center of Berlin, Believe in Tomorrow (covering the costs for at least two families each your for Christmas), Women Supporting Women, and as-needed clothing at the local schools. Moreover, the Church Mouse takes a unique approach to the 2nd Friday Art Strolls in Berlin, highlighting a different outreach program each month instead of showcasing an artist. The Church Shop also plays an active role in town events, contributing time and money to the Parks Commission and the Fiddlers Convention, to name a few. “We are always looking out for the activities that will enhance the town and provide activities for the kids,” said Wiley.
Wiley has been in charge of operations for the past eight years, and as a member of the local community, she can’t remember a time when the shop wasn’t making a difference in her town. “I can’t imagine this not being here – it’s been so important to so many people.” Wiley was quick to acknowledge all of their volunteers, as well as, the local businesses the show them so much support. “A lot of the local merchants look out for us to help us along the way.”
For more information on the Church Mouse Thrift Shop, stop in and say hello to Wiley or any of the volunteers at their storefront on 101 N. Main Street in Berlin. If you would like to donate items or clothing, small amounts can be brought to the store or call Wiley at 443-513-6655 for larger donations.