The little thrift shop that could: How Miscellany Finds fosters community connection

Jan 5 2021, 12:28 pm

Vancouver’s Commercial Drive is lined with unique specialty shops, but there is one spot in particular that makes you feel like you’ve stepped into an old friend’s home.

As you walk into Miscellany Finds, you’re surrounded by trinkets, clothing, furniture, records, dishes, shoes, and a sense of warmth and welcoming radiating from owner Portia Sam.

 Miscellany Finds thrift shop

Owner Portia Sam stands outside Miscellany Finds (Simran Singh/Daily Hive)

The thrift shop is special, and not just because of the unique finds stacked along its shelves. It also serves as a social enterprise and community hub that works to help marginalized girls and women transition back into the workforce through job training.

“With the training that goes on and the women that come in, that’s really the sense of community. The customers are fabulous … the people that come and bring us donations, which again [is a] community,” Sam tells Daily Hive in an interview.

Over the years, Miscellany Finds has grown into its own micro-community in the heart of The Drive. Folks from all walks of life come through the shop to bring in boxes of donations, peruse gently worn, stylish vintage clothing, or say hello to Sam and the other staff members.

 Miscellany Finds thrift shop

Trinkets lining the shelves of Miscellany Finds (Simran Singh/Daily Hive)

Sam explains that the training that happens in the store has a powerful impact on women who are often trying to regain their livelihood and sense of self.

“The women that come in here and do the training – it’s all different levels – some young ladies will come in here and they will last two days, but you know what – I know that while they were here for the two days, they got something,” she says.

“Like they’re going to remember us, you know, when they’re back wherever they are. Some women come and they do six months. And they come back all the time to see us because … they got something really important here, whatever it is. Mostly it’s their confidence back.”

COVID-19 can’t stop community connection

COVID-19 has taken its toll on Miscellany Finds’ sales and its social enterprise program. Restrictions have resulted in the shop pausing its training.

“COVID has prevented [the shop] from being the community hub it once has been,” says Sam.

 Miscellany Finds thrift shop

The entrance of Miscellany Finds (Simran Singh/Daily Hive)

“This is a community space: people come in here to see each other, to chat, to do art in here – it’s a bustling place. People come to get things for people who are living under the bridge, or whatever it is, and that’s all changed because of COVID.”

Although the shop is still taking donations, the nature of how items are accepted has become a lengthier process in order to prioritize safety.

“We used to take donations every day in just bags. Now, we have to take things in boxes, we have to quarantine things for three days, they have to be separate boxes,” says Sam, adding that all items and clothing are thoroughly cleaned, steamed, and disinfected before they are placed on shelves.

 Miscellany Finds thrift shop

Interior of Miscellany Finds (Simran Singh/Daily Hive)

Despite the impacts of the pandemic, the sense of community at Miscellany Finds has not faltered.

It can be seen in the way Sam interacts with her customers. A few times during the interview, she pauses to chat with people walking into the shop.

It’s hard to differentiate between those who have stepped in with donations for the first time and folks who have been visiting for years, because Sam shares the same warmth and welcoming kindness with everyone who walks through the door.

The source of Sam’s ability to connect with people is simple. “I happen to know that me, you, we’re all related, we’re one, and if we don’t take care of each other, we’re hooped,” Sam explains.

“I don’t care how it sounds, it is what it is, and we better figure it out … because, you know, a lot of the world is on fire right now. People are done, they’re done, and people refuse to see that we’re connected.”

“It’s forever for me”

As a Black business owner, Sam also witnessed how community connection and support was crucial this past summer, when people across the world – including in Vancouver – rallied against police brutality and anti-Black racism following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis.

During the protests, Sam said folks came in with flowers, chocolates, and cookies to show their support while they shopped. “I was like, ‘Whoa, we are feeling the love,'” she notes.

At the same time, Sam explains that she “was really overwhelmed.”

“All I did was cry,” she says. “And my PTSD was real, like I’m not kidding, it was real. I was not in touch with my PTSD, let’s just put it that way. I just do what I do. I’m just living life in my body. Yeah, I am a Black woman … but I’m not any more or any less. I am just me. And when it happened, it just took me by surprise. All this emotion came up in me,” says Sam.

While the momentum and support around the movement is something she appreciates, Sam also notes that Black Lives Matter and abolishing racial injustice is not a fleeting cultural moment or “a single thing that we can fix in two months, in 10 months. It’s ongoing anti-racism … it’s just an ongoing learning experience,” she says.

“It’s forever for me, so it should be forever for you.”

“People still give a shit around here”

Despite the challenges of 2020, Sam says what keeps her going is simple.

“It is community,” she says. “I’ve lived on The Drive for many years, and this whole neighbourhood does a thing to me where it’s like, it feels like how home should feel.”

While she acknowledges the neighbourhood is “changing and there is nothing wrong with change,” Sam says that the community continues to look out for one another.

“We get people in here all the time coming in here saying, ‘I need a pair of shoes for this guy up the street.’ They actually pay attention to what’s going on. So many times we walk by that person who is on the side of the street who has nothing and we can’t even look them in the eye,” she says.

“It feels like home, you know. People still give a shit around here and they care for each other.”

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