Nonprofit shop offers gently used clothes, job training for teens

MIDDLEBURY — Jutta Miska has been involved in local teen issues since her family arrived in the Middlebury area back in 1983. She helped establish and staff the Addison Central Teens center and has spearheaded the annual “Swap & Shop” clothing store at Middlebury Union High School for the past four years.
But Miska stepped down from those efforts last summer to focus on a new nonprofit venture that,  again, has area youth as its core. It’s called “Buy Again Alley,” a downtown Middlebury store where teens will be able to buy and sell gently used clothing, while at the same time learn the ins and outs of retail.
“A focus of this store is teen employment,” Miska said on Thursday as she and recent MUHS grad Jessi Cyr readied the store for its official Jan. 13 opening at 1 Frog Hollow Alley.
Buy Again Alley is an outgrowth of “Swap & Shop,” which during a limited time during the academic year gave MUHS students access to clean, gently used clothing at a bargain. They could also trade in some of their own clothing and help staff the shop to gain points to acquire store clothing. The service helped students find decent, inexpensive clothing without having to go to the Burlington or Rutland shopping hubs. Last June’s Swap & Shop recorded 294 transactions, according to Miska.
Miska last year surveyed 200 local high school students if they would support a second-hand store for teens in Middlebury. She noted 140 respondents said they’d shop at such a store, while 135 indicated they’d consider selling some of their clothes on consignment.
“I always thought it would be neat to have a store for teens here,” Miska said.
The survey information gave Miska added inspiration to proceed with the idea, though she thought she’d take a full year to plan the venture. But a couple of serendipitous developments prompted her to move up her schedule. First, the 1 Frog Hollow Alley space suddenly opened up in October. Then the news got even better when a longtime supporter of youth programming (who wishes to remain anonymous) offered to subsidize the first six months of rent for a second-hand store.
While the stars were aligning for the new store, Miska wanted to make sure her idea would not hurt similar, already established nonprofit businesses in town. So she contacted Neat Repeats, Round Robin and Junebug representatives to explain her business plan. Miska was pleased to get nothing but encouragement from leaders of those businesses. They offered her advice on how to succeed, and Neat Repeats gave her a $750 grant to cover some of the start-up costs. Round Robin gave Miska some prom dresses to beef up her inventory, which currently includes many items left over from Swap & Shop.
Miska and Buy Again Alley’s board of directors are still refining the store’s business plan. The store gratefully accepts donations of clothing and accessories, and also allow folks 25 and younger to sell items on consignment. For now, the store is selling clothes at a flat rate per category, including $9 for jeans, $4 for tank tops, $10 for sweaters and $5 for shorts. A quick perusal of Buy Again Alley’s wares this past Thursday revealed an abundance of clothes ranging from tank tops to tuxedos. The venue also includes some belts, ties, hats, shoes, purses, bags, scarves, picture frames and jewelry that Miska is selling on behalf of some of her adult friends.
Shoppers got a sneak preview of Buy Again Alley during a soft opening that lasted from Dec. 13 through 24. A bunch of bargain hunters found great deals for Christmas gifts. One of those clients was Cyr, who said she might otherwise have not been able to afford Christmas gifts for her family. Cyr, 18, works two jobs in addition to her volunteer work with Buy Again Alley.
“Everything here is very well priced,” said Cyr, who aspires to a career in cosmetology.
Miska wants to pay salaries to store staff once the venture starts making some money. In the meantime, she, Cyr and the handful of other helpers are working gratis. And while staff won’t see paychecks for a while, the young volunteers will get some good résumé building and experience running a business.
“My focus is young women who want to learn a trade, who cannot go to college for whatever reason, to teach them business skills and whatever they need to go on in life and their next job,” said Miska, who added men will also be invited to join the workforce.
Eventually, Miska hopes Buy Again Alley will generate enough revenues for scholarships for youth interested in furthering their education. In that spirit, plans call for Buy Again Alley to host occasional evening workshops on such topics as clothing design, sewing, jewelry making, marketing and promotion, how to draft a résumé, and “dressing for success.”
Buy Again Alley will be open Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Those hours could change depending on customer demand and shopping trends, Miska said. The store has a Facebook page.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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