Darien Historical Society honors thrift shop building

It’s quite likely one of the best one-dollar investments this town has seen over the last century. In October of 1946, Robert Grieb sold the house at 996 Post Rd. to the Darien Community Association Thrift Shop for 100 pennies.

The sale price is one of many quirks behind the history of the thrift shop, which was recently honored by the Darien Historical Society with a plaque recognizing the building’s historical significance.

Susan Spain, DCA board member and past president, worked with past president Kate Larson and Marian Castell, the town historian, to bring the plaque to the thrift shop, which hangs above the building’s front door

“So many people have worked on this house and for this house and so many people have been involved in the thrift shop, we really wanted to give it a sense of importance to them,” Spain told The Darien Times.

“The project offered us the opportunity to work with town employees — the Town Clerk’s office, the assessor’s office and the building office — the Historical Society and the town historian to learn more about the property before it came into the DCA’s hands, and also provided a great perspective on the foresight of the women who started the thrift shop in 1931,” Larson added.

Carol Smith, thrift shop chairman, got the idea for the plaque when neighboring Calvary Baptist Church was recognized by the historical society last year.

“I would like to say on behalf of all the volunteers how honored and proud I am for this recognition for the shop and I would also like to thank Susan Spain, Kate Larson and Marian Castell, who have worked many months on getting the plaque for us,” Smith stated in an email.

There are currently more than 70 volunteers who help run the thrift shop, which is open Tuesday through Saturday. The thrift shop provides more than 50% of the total revenues collected by the DCA, which is the largest provider of scholarships to Darien High School students.

Amy Bell, the DCA’s executive director, said the historical society’s recognition of the thrift shop is testament to the store’s rich history.

“I am continually amazed at the hard work put in by our many volunteers, and the generous donations given by Darien residents,” Bell stated in an email. “These efforts are returned to the community when shop profits help the DCA enrich the community, and offer scholarships to Darien High School graduates.”

The structure, which was dubbed “The Bartram House,” as it was Sarah Bartram’s estate that Grieb bought the day before he sold it to the DCA for a dollar, was built in 1920. Bartram bought the land from Emma Slawson in 1907, according to town land records.

A year after it was bought, the DCA moved its thrift shop from a garage on West Avenue to the Bartram House. The thrift shop had been open in different locations around town since 1931.

The DCA was known as the Darien Improvement Association when the thrift shop opened. The organization is celebrating 90 years of existence this year.

Researching the necessary requirements to receive the plaque was an arduous task, Spain said.

“We noticed the frustration of how poor the records were,” Spain said. “It required a lot more in-depth research — more than we had expected to do.”

In the search for records at the DCA’s headquarters on Middlesex Road, Spain and Larson found a narrative produced by Tyler Clark that provided a synopsis of the thrift shop’s history.

When Alfred Philips Jr. loaned the DCA a space on West Avenue in the 1930s for the thrift shop, the store was only opened on Fridays. The shop sold clothes and toys with occasional food sales at Christmas, Clark wrote.

“During the years of the depression, a number of women were given welcome employment at 50 cents an hour, washing, mending and repairing the articles to be put on sale,” Clark stated.

By 1939, the thrift shop came of age, Clark continued, and found itself open six days a week, and requiring the services of a treasurer and a publicity department.

“A cash register was added to the shop’s equipment, although some of the workers were timid about using it at first,” Clark wrote.

The shop moved to 228 Post Road in 1941 — a location that offered a larger salesroom. The DCA also added a men’s department, a dressing room, a workroom for pricing and a storage room.

The thrift shop ended up without a future home in 1946 when “it was found that the shop could no longer rent” the Post Road building — “a serious situation in 1946,” Clark wrote.

“With considerable relief and no little pride,” the DCA bought the Bartram House, where it stands today.

“Throughout the happy but arduous task of converting the house into a store, a great deal of practical assistance was generously given by Darien and Stamford businessmen,” she continued. “All this was gratifying proof in tangible form of the thrift shop’s value to the community. Its tangible assets are not inconsiderable.”

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