Korky Vann: In Salisbury, Prime Finds Sells Antiques For Charity

When it comes to a perfect country destination for a perfect spring day, it's hard to beat Salisbury. The little spot, just a few miles from the New York border, features all the things you'd expect in a picture-perfect New England town — beautiful stone churches, art galleries, country inns, charming tea rooms and unique emporiums.

It's not, however, a place you'd expect to find bargains. At least, I didn't — until I spotted an antiques shop with a sign that read "Prime Finds: Affordable Treasures for the Home." Situated in a yellow clapboard house with white trim, the store looked more, well, chic, than cheap, but I decided to check it out.

Like most antiques stores, Prime Finds offers a mix of merchandise — furniture, accessories, rugs, window treatments, china and crystal. Unlike most antiques shops, everything is priced well below market.

Turns out the reason for the deals is that Prime Finds is an unusual kind of antiques shop. The store, featuring high-end home furnishings, antiques and collectibles, is a "charity thrift" — a fundraising effort for Primetime House Inc. in Torrington and its subsidiary, Compass Center in Lakeville. The nonprofits offer social and vocational programs for individuals who have had a diagnosis of mental illness. Volunteers and members from the Compass Center staff the shop.

"We were looking to raise funds for our programs and were aware of the success other non-profits had with resale stores, so we started to explore the idea," says Lisa Lynch, executive director of Primetime House, Inc. "One of our board members, Emily Soell, started soliciting donations. When we saw the quality of the merchandise coming in, we decided to specialize in fine home furnishings and antiques. In the beginning, we crossed our fingers that we'd be able to maintain those standards and pull it off."

That was three years ago. (Prime Finds operated for two years in Sharon and moved last year to its current location.) Since then, the store has become a destination for area residents, local antiques dealers and weekend treasure hunters who comb the antiques shops along Route 44 and Route 7.

You won't find any old toasters or used Tupperware here; nor any clothing, toys or electronics. Instead, you might find a baby grand piano, vintage wicker garden set, pink glass art deco chandelier, delicate Spode china, classic roll top desk, wrought iron baker's rack or a mahogany dining room set — all in near-perfect condition and artfully displayed. Prime Finds has both a volunteer appraiser and a visual merchandiser.

"We're very discriminating in what we accept. Many of our customers are surprised when they come in and learn we're not a 'regular' antique shop," says Lynch. "Some of them don't notice at all, while others will leave a donation on the counter, even if they don't buy anything."

Michael Gold, creator of TheThriftShopper.Com, an online national directory of more than 10,000 charity-driven thrift stores, says he's seen a change in not-for-profit resale stores over the past few years.

"Most used to be stores with piles of item heaped on tables or in bins," says Gold. "Now many are moving into the 'boutique' model, with nicer displays and nicer merchandise."

And some, like Prime Finds, are specializing.

"Habitat For Humanity has hundreds of 'Re-stores' which sell new and used building supplies," says Gold. "And Goodwill has opened some bookstores and some computer and electronics stores."

Some shoppers prefer to donate and buy from charity thrifts because they know the money goes to good causes. Other simply like the deals. Those who make donations to charity thrifts get tax write-offs.

Lynch says last year's sales at Prime Finds netted the organizations more than $20,000, enough to purchase a new phone system and computers — and support important programming.

"We're so pleased with the store's success," says Lynch. "It's worked out better than we ever expected."

Prime Finds, 2 Main St., Salisbury, is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunda from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. For information or to make donations, call 860-435-9709 or visit http://www.primehouse.org.

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