September 30, 2022
Ithaca, NY | 54°F


Shopping for a second chance

While most resale shops work to give used clothes another shot, the Mary Durham Boutique in Ithaca offers local women in need of a second chance to take control of their lives.

Mary Durham Boutique volunteer Tish Brown looks through previously used clothing. The boutique works with women who need to find jobs. Kevin Campbell/The Ithacan

The Mary Durham Boutique, located on West Court Street, sells inexpensive used clothing and offers women in need of career assistance a place to develop the skills they need to enter the job market.

Anne Hartsfield, supervisor and manager of the boutique, said more people in the community need financial help this time of year.

“During the holidays, it’s harder,” she said. “Especially women who have children, that becomes difficult to make ends meet.”

Mary Durham, a Cornell
University graduate and activist, taught English as a second language and counseled young people in the area. When Durham passed away 30 years ago, she left her home in downtown Ithaca to her children. They donated the house to the Women’s Opportunity Center, an organization that helps women overcome obstacles and achieve success through employment and training services. Durham’s home was turned into the boutique to honor her legacy.

Hartsfield said that local women who are faced with divorce, sudden unemployment or are otherwise struggling to get by seek help from the center to get back on track. In working with the center, the store helps provide the women with the resources they need to get a job and live on their own.

“They have a dressing room where they help women who may need some clothes for an interview that they’re going on,” Hartsfield said.  “We also sometimes help with transportation.”

Some women also staff the store. While they are not paid for their time, the women work to gain the experience they will need to get a job. Hartsfield said the women in training often work with customers to gain communications skills and at the register to develop mathematical skills. She said the boutique helps them learn to work under pressure and to think quickly on their feet.

Hartsfield said her main goal is to help women become work ready. She said she hopes the volunteers will treat the experience as if they are employed and expects they will show up every day and complete the tasks at hand so they develop a deeper sense of responsibility.

“I expect that you’ll do the job that I give you, work well with everybody and have a good attitude,” Hartsfield said. “Retail can
prepare you for anything. So much of it is customer service oriented — being able to work well with others and learning skills.”

Tish Brown has been working at the boutique for about a month because she wants to develop a better sense of independence. She said she is being taught skills to make her more appealing to employers.

“The Mary Durham Boutique helps young women to become self-sufficient and help get them out on their own,” Brown said. “It makes you independent and responsible.”

Ruth Lewis works at the Mary Durham Boutique to get experience working with the public.

“I’m getting out there and working with people,” she said. “I pretty much stay downstairs and work with the customers. I usually work the register, and I make sure everything looks good.”

Lewis said the boutique provides stress-free shopping, and most of the clothes being sold are from brands that are not found in the Ithaca area like Eileen Fisher, Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, J. Jill and Bebe.

“It’s a great place to shop because it’s small, there’s a really nice dressing room, no stress, no crowds,” she said.

Penny Romantic, a regular customer, frequently purchases clothes from the boutique and said she originally noticed the store when she was working out across the street.

As a mother of two children in college, Romantic said shopping at the boutique is an inexpensive place  for her and her family to shop.

“You never know what you’re going to find, and I love what it supports,” she said. “I love the whole philosophy behind it — it’s recycling clothes, helping people and saving money.”