Shift Thrift uses consumerism to build community 


click to enlarge Shift Thrift executive director Mike Mazzola likens the shop to the tiny house movement. - HELEN ROBINSON
  • Helen Robinson
  • Shift Thrift executive director Mike Mazzola likens the shop to the tiny house movement.

Shift Thrift executive director Mike Mazzola likes to say the charity consignment shop he founded is its own "tiny store movement."

"It's like the tiny house movement — we're in this small space but we have big plans," he said. "We want to grow to help 50, 100 charities, and we need the space to scale it that way, to create a big enterprise."

Shift Thrift really is bursting at the seams. The social enterprise thrift store has had two homes since it opened in August last year, first in a "too awkward" spot under the bridge on West Colorado Avenue, and now in a small room tucked behind Mountain Equipment Recyclers, which is owned by Mazzola and his wife, Julie.

Even working from cramped quarters, Shift Thrift provides revenue to the eight Colorado Springs nonprofits they call partners: Rocky Mountain Field Institute, Trails and Open Space Coalition, Kids on Bikes, The Home Front Cares, Blue Star Recyclers, Springs Rescue Mission, Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates, and Colorado Springs Food Rescue.

Here's how it works: You have a box of clothes and dishes you want to donate. You bring the box to Shift Thrift, and choose which charity partner you want to support. When a Shift Thrift customer buys those clothes and dishes, your chosen charity receives a percentage of the sales.

Customers also know who they're supporting with their purchase — every price tag is labeled with the name of the charity that will benefit.

"You know who you're shopping for," Mazzola said. "You can say, 'I just bought a pair of shoes and I supported Blue Star Recyclers.'"

Mazzola says Shift Thrift was inspired partly by Give! — "that idea of everyone working together to support charities, where you start small and just keep growing" — and by the model the Mazzolas have been using to support local nonprofits through Mountain Equipment Recyclers.

At MER, which deals in used outdoor gear, consignors can select a regular consignment option or donate their gear to the charity of their choice. "The charity gets 50 percent when it sells, so people who donate are essentially giving up their consignment to go to charity," Mazzola explains.

Instead of outdoor gear, Shift Thrift accepts and sells clothing, footwear, dishes and small household goods. Furniture and electrical goods can't be accepted due to space constraints — an issue the Mazzolas hope to put behind them when they find a larger location.

"Once we get where [Shift Thrift] needs to go, we really can raise a lot," Mazzola says.

"It's a way to directly target giving towards local charities — instead of giving money, you're just giving your stuff. We all have stuff. Any person that has a home in Colorado Springs has a box of stuff they could bring. That's what we want: We want to use consumerism to help our local charities."

Mazzola points to Blue Star Recyclers, whose mission is recycling electronics to provide jobs for people with autism and other disabilities, as an example of Shift Thrift's goals for creating impact and "community connections."

"When we give Blue Star Recyclers money, they have more money to hire more people. The people they hire can then get their independence, they can get their own place and their self-esteem improves," he says.

"There's an enormous social need in our community and a lot of our charity partners struggle — they have these amazing programs and they want to hire more people, but first they've got to get grants and donations.

"We've designed this social enterprise business to be a conduit of revenue for local charities, so hopefully when we get ourselves scaled in size we can fund their programs and they're able to do more in the community. The whole community wins."

For two years, Shift Thrift has been seeking a larger location close to downtown, to house more donations and to stay close to their nonprofit partners.

In the meantime, Mazzola says, "We're building a brand, we're building the recognition, we're a functioning nonprofit and it's worth being open. The revenue isn't what we'd like it to be yet, because we're still just a little place in the back of another store. When we move, people will already know about us.

"The Springs is a community-oriented city — that's why there are so many nonprofits doing great things in our community. That's why it will work."

Visit shiftthriftstore.com for more.


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