By ROBIN WOODS
For Montclair Local
Robin Woods is a local girl-about-town, writing about activities, stores, restaurants and interesting people that catch her eye. She’s written memoirs and personal essays as well as
music and fashion columns for various New York City newspapers. Robin received the Shirley Chisholm Award for Journalism in 2015.
Got something you think should be in Robin’s Nest? Write to us at: email@example.com.
I’m going around town a bit more month by month, in search of new people and places to write about in this column. It hasn’t been easy adapting to the new ways of keeping safe and healthy during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, but sometimes all it takes is a short walk in my neighborhood to find a gem of a female entrepreneur.
Roulande Begy is a woman with a huge heart, who’s made it her mission to make sure that children have clothing and supplies they need to succeed in school and in life. Little Treasure Thrift Shop on Maple Avenue opened on May 26, 2018, as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. She had to close the shop down from March 21 to June 15, 2020, as a nonessential retail store, and kept paying rent from money she saved from sales, and also paying rent out of pocket. She’s been going strong again seven days a week, bringing smiles to the faces of families who come to purchase uniforms, clothing and supplies for their children.
Roulande explained why she chose the nonprofit business model. “When you open a foundation, you can receive donations of clothing and school supplies. Monetary donations are also welcome, too. I call the children my little treasures, and decided to use the name to let people know how important they are to me,” she said.
Born in Haiti, she moved to Montclair in 1997. The mother of two sons, ages 24 and 12, she was concerned about how needier children were treated by their peers at school.
“As a child in Haiti, I enjoyed a life of privilege. I attended private schools, and had dreams of becoming a successful businesswoman. I noticed that some kids had dirty, ill-fitting clothes and uniforms, and were bullied by other children. I didn’t feel good about it, and started buying uniforms with my own money so that they would have more self-esteem,” Roulande said. Although students are not required to wear uniforms in most Montclair schools, families approached her at the Lincoln Avenue School in Orange, where she works as a second-grade special education teacher. Remote teaching via Google Classroom is now the norm, with some school districts in Essex County reopening in September with a hybrid of in-person and virtual learning, and she’s ready to meet the needs of people who come to shop.
Customers can come into her shop, six at a time maximum, sanitizing their hands and wearing masks. A large table placed outside the shop when weather permits allows
customers to browse and buy if they don’t feel comfortable going inside. Roulande accepts donations of clothing during business hours, as long as all items are clean and pristine. She sorts the clothing item by item by hand, wearing protective gloves, and discards clothing that is torn and unwearable. It’s not unusual for her to take clothes home with her to wash again, to make sure that they are safe to wear.
Her inventory includes baby items, school uniforms for children elementary through high school age, backpacks, books, accessories and casual clothing. The display shelves also hold jewelry pieces and accessories. Her eclectic decorating sense is shown by a mannequin wearing a little black cocktail dress, statement necklace and safari hat.
She also makes adult clothing available for sale when people donate it. Racks of men’s clothing hang overhead, with many more racks of women’s formal and casual clothing covering an entire wall. Donated household items and small furniture pieces are also ready for purchase. Roulande also makes personalized gift baskets full of treasure for birthdays, baby showers and special occasions. Always sensitive to the economic status of her customers, she will give out clothing to those who can’t afford to pay the minimal prices she charges.
Keeping up the tradition of the convenience store called Lucy’s, which was located at her address for decades, Roulande has candy, cake and ice cream on hand as a special treat for kids. Adults appreciate that little bit of sweetness as well.
Roulande calls what she does “a mission of love” and usually works alone in the shop. She sometimes gets volunteers through Amazon or help from high school students who need community service hours.
During my visit there, I watched Maria Hernandez steam clothing to make sure that it’s ready to try on. Even when people come to volunteer at Little Treasure, Roulande gives them a small stipend and brings breakfast and lunch from home to share with them.
When I asked Roulande what she does with her little pockets of free time, she said, “I love to cook my favorite Haitian recipes, especially black rice with shrimp and crab. My mother lives with me, and taught me how to make it. It’s delicious. I also enjoy spending as much time as I can with my sons.”
I can say that I’ve met a treasure of a woman with the biggest heart of just about anyone I know, who puts smiles on the faces of children and adults.
In this column:
Little Treasure Thrift Shop
2 Maple Ave.