Wednesday, April 15, 2015

All Dressed Up at Finders Keepers

Finders Keepers workers Justine Deluca, Morgan Snyder, Keith Conklin, and Barney Pedraza
Finders Keepers workers Justine Deluca, Morgan Snyder,
Keith Conklin, and Barney Pedraza
Last minute prom dress shoppers on a budget can breathe a sigh of relief, thanks to an unexpected visit to a local thrift store by a real-life Fairy Godmother.

René Spallina, of Fairy Godmothers of Greater Rochester, recently gifted Finders Keepers of Mount Morris more than 800 prom, semiformal, cocktail, dinner, and wedding dresses.  The not-for-profit shop, which employs and benefits individuals with disabilities through The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming, is selling them at a deep discount of $10-$65 per dress.

"My family lives in Pittsford, but our business is in Mount Morris," explains René, whose family's Spallina Materials business produces concrete, asphalt, stone, and sand.  "I drive by the Finders Keepers store every day.  One day I had a bunch of stuff from my house that I dropped off for donation.  I started talking to the person working there, and she mentioned that it was part of The Arc, and that the money made there goes to the programs.  I explained what I do, and asked if they might be interested in some dresses."

Mara Axelrod (left) and René Spallina (right)
With fellow Fairy Godmother Mara Axelrod, René amasses well over 3,000 special occasion dresses at any given time, for distribution to young women in financial need.   The dresses — many of which are brand new — come from sources such as bridal shops, drop off locations, and independent dress drives.  Each year, the Godmothers hold a huge Prom Fair at the Riverside Convention Center in Rochester.  Personal shoppers help to make dreams come true for as many as 400 prom-goers, with free dresses, alterations, and accessories.

By working with Finders Keepers, René is able to spread her organization's fairy magic a bit further.

Located on the corner of State and Main Streets in Mount Morris, Finders Keepers opened in 2009 as the inaugural retail venture for The Arc's Hilltop Industries vocational rehabilitation program.  The store provides gainful employment and work skills training for 6-8 individuals with intellectual and other developmental disabilities, who work in customer service and behind-the-scenes capacities.  Proceeds benefit Hilltop's work programs in the community and its integrated work centers.

Handling such a large donation has presented a series of learning opportunities and adventures for Finders Keepers workers, beginning with the process of picking up the dresses.

"It took more than one trip," says Finders Keepers Store Manager Bud Howe.  "For the first pick-up, we drove to Rochester in what seemed like a snow storm.  We backed up to a loading dock, and ended up throwing about 45 bags of eight dresses each a bag into the vehicle.  We were like Santa and his elves hauling half a bus full of black bags through the snow."

Back at the store, the team unloaded, hung, steamed, sorted, and priced the dresses in preparation for display on the showroom floor.  They also honed their marketing skills, producing flyers for local schools, and elaborate store window dressing to promote the ongoing dress sale.

"The first day that we had them on display, two girls from Mount Morris School came in and started trying them on them on," Bud says.  "The word spread quickly and — boom — we had our first customer, a Mount Morris family who bought four dresses for a wedding." 

In two weeks’ time, Finders Keepers had sold nearly 30 dresses, in significant progress toward a "happily ever after” ending.  Finders Keepers' Fairy Godmother couldn't be more pleased.

"I'm thrilled for two main reasons," René says. "First, girls right here who can't travel into the city are getting dresses, when they otherwise might not be able to afford a prom dress or a dress for a special event.  Also, the fact that the money is staying in this area, and being put into Arc programs, is a very important thing."