by Laurie Ghigliotti
ATCHISON — In the heart of Atchison is a bargain hunter’s paradise and an institution that is both a ministry to the community and a support to Atchison’s Catholic schools. Sacred Heart Variety and More, previously known as Sacred Heart Thrift Store, is under new management and under a new roof.
The store’s new digs on the corner of 5th and Commercial streets brings it into downtown, more than doubles the space and improves on the parking of its previous location. Shoppers and staff are grateful for the change — and the new shopping carts.
What hasn’t changed are the prices and the welcoming attitude of the shop’s new manager and its staff. And, of course, the giant gumball machine that stands beside the front desk, which was carefully transported from the store’s previous location along with the racks of clothing and bins of toys.
“The kids go crazy about it,” said Cookie (Catherine) Kovar, the store’s manager.
Kovar took on the store’s management last summer. Donna Willming, longtime secretary of Sacred Heart Church in Atchison, was the inspiration and driving force behind the store since the late 1990s until passing on the baton to Kovar, according to Father Gerard Senecal, OSB.
“Donna bears immense credit for the success of the thrift store,” he said.
Kovar is pleased with the continued success of the store and the perks of its new location.
“The number of customers almost doubled and sales have almost doubled, too,” said Kovar. “Spring and summer are usually a dead time in sales, but [at our new location] sales have been great.”
The store’s ministry appeals to members of Atchison parishes like Anita Buhman-Wiggs.
“One of the things that I really like about the store is that it helps the people in the community while raising money for our schools,” she said. “It makes it a lot easier to let go of the excess things in my life. Somebody else in the community can use it and the schools get the money. It’s like a recycling bin.”
Sarah Peitsch agrees.
“The Sacred Heart Variety and More store is such a double, or maybe I should say triple, blessing to this community,” she said. “It allows us to find items we need at affordable prices and it also gives us an opportunity to get rid of things in our own houses, knowing that they will be used by someone else who might need them more than we do.”
“The community has come to depend on the store just as much as our schools have come to depend on it, too,” she added.
Kovar, a member of St. Benedict’s Parish in Atchison, said it’s hard to describe the typical customer. Patrons range from the poor and working class, to the students and professors of Benedictine College, to people passing through and needing a few extra things for their trip — anyone looking for a bargain, she said.
The store’s new name reflects the wide assortment of items available.
“You can go there for so many things,” said Buhman-Wiggs. “It is such a great resource for a variety of things.”
The store is a popular stop for theater props and helps keep theater production budgets in line, for example.
The store’s contributions to Atchison Catholic Elementary School and Maur Hill-Mount Academy in Atchison have been impressive and reflect the vision of Will-ming, its founder, and the dedication of many volunteers.
“The most important part of the store is my volunteers,” Kovar said. “We have about 20 regular volunteers.”
While most of the store’s volunteers are women from Atchison parishes, husbands get drafted to make repairs to donated items and students in need of service hours also volunteer at the store.
“There’s a lot of good work being done here,” said Kovar.
Their investment of time and talent in the thrift store has reaped impressive dividends.
“In 13 years, the thrift store has provided $338,367 for [Atchison Catholic Elementary School] and $171,500 to [Maur Hill-Mount Academy],” Father Gerard said.
With its new location, the store promises to be an even greater support for Catholic education in Atchison.
About the store
Sacred Heart Variety and More is located on the corner of 5th and Commercial streets and is open Tuesday – Saturday. Store hours are 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Tuesday – Friday) and 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. (Saturday).