For a fun and easy way to reduce your environmental footprint while supporting a worthy charity, look no further than Toluca Lake’s own American Cancer Society Discovery Shop on Riverside Drive.
“We have a lot of customers who prefer to buy our merchandise rather than buying new, because they like to recycle,” says manager Michelle Galvez. “It makes the donors feel good, too, that their items are being sold for a great cause, not just being thrown away. It’s also rewarding to buy something and know that your money is going toward finding a cure for cancer.”
The very idea has local roots: Seeking a way to raise money for cancer research after losing her mother to the disease, Encino resident Denise Noel founded the first Discovery Shop in 1965. The innovative concept — an upscale, volunteer-run resale store offering gently used clothing and other donated items, with all proceeds benefiting ACS — caught on quickly, and today there are 40 Discovery Shops throughout California and dozens more across the nation.
The Toluca Lake Discovery Shop was opened in 1996 by original manager Amy Widener, with Bob Hope and Fritz Coleman cutting the ceremonial ribbon. (Coleman returned to celebrate the Discovery Shops’ 50th anniversary in 2015 and the Toluca Lake location’s 20th in 2016.) The store has evolved over the years, now selling items on eBay and marketing itself through social media and email, but it remains a steadfast neighborhood presence.
“We have built a strong base of support in the community,” Galvez says. “A few of our volunteers have been here from the beginning, and some of our donors and customers have supported us for over 20 years. In fact, we have regulars who come in every day, sometimes to look for that hidden gem, but always to socialize.”
This camaraderie is the main draw for Galvez, who started volunteering as part of a high school community service project 16 years ago and was eventually hired as one of the store’s only two paid staff members. “I got very close to the volunteers and the customers — they’re like a big family,” she explains. “And I had a relative who passed away from cancer, so you can’t help but want to raise as much money as you can for the cause.”
Quality merchandise and creative, boutique-style displays are key to this endeavor. “We are selective in what we take; it has to be in good condition,” Galvez says. “We do a lot to make our displays look attractive, because we want our customers to enjoy shopping.”
Clothing, books and furniture are the top sellers, but the shop sees plenty of jewelry, purses, paintings and collectibles as well. Volunteers research any unusual or potentially valuable items and set designer and vintage goods aside for semiannual “Only the Best” sales, which draw big crowds and thousands of dollars in revenue. The store’s occasional gallery-style art sales have also been great successes.
Despite the high-end focus, Galvez says, “Because we are labeled as a thrift shop, some people are afraid to come in — like, ‘Who wants to buy someone else’s belongings?’ And I want to let them know: Just come on in and see what we have, and I guarantee you will find something awesome.”
Best of all, it’s a shopping spree you can feel good about. “You’re giving something a second life — it’s not being treated as disposable,” Galvez points out, adding that even unsold items are donated to other charities or a recycling center to ensure that nothing is wasted. “In honor of Earth Day, we’re having a 25% off sale on April 22. And every day we’re supporting a good cause.”
Interested in volunteering at the Toluca Lake Discovery Shop? Stop by the store and talk to Michelle Galvez.