The Williamstown Elementary School PTO's clothing sale in 2012 raised more than $7,000. This year's is expected to fill the gym.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — In September, Williamstown is going to be a bargain-hunter's dream.
Fund-raisers will be bountiful in the Village Beautiful, and the first shot at secondhand items comes Saturday, Sept. 7, with a pair of events held just a few blocks away from one another.
The Williamstown Elementary School's Parent Teacher Organization will hold its eighth annual Used Clothing Sale from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the school's gymnasium. Just a brief walk up Southworth Street, Sts. Patrick and Raphael Parish will be holding its annual tag and bake sale from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
And later in the month, on Saturday, Sept. 28, the ABC Clothing Sale will be held at the First Congregational Church to benefit A Better Chance, a program that brings talented youngsters from underserved communities to Williamstown to attend Mount Greylock Regional High School.
Some of those high schoolers may want to be sure to stop by WES on Sept. 7, where quality used clothing for children and teens of all ages will be available.
"We have a lot of clothes in sizes 16 and 18," PTO Clothing Sale organizer Cecilia Hirsch said this week. "They're essentially small adult sizes, and that population doesn't always come to the sale. They think it's just for little kids' stuff. But we really do have through size 18."
In fact, the WES PTO sale gets donations of adult clothing as well, but it passes those along to the folks at the ABC sale, who reciprocate by sending kids' clothes the way of the WES sale, Hirsch said.
The PTO sale accepts donations year round at the school and at two satellite locations: Williamstown Family Chiropractic and the Williamstown Community Preschool. In fact, it is accepting donations right up until the day before the sale, which comes a little earlier than usual this year because holidays in the month of September forced organizers to pick the first weekend after the start of school.
With just more than a week and a half to go, the PTO volunteers were busy sorting through and pricing the mountain of clothes already collected for the 2013 sale. The group used to have a fall and a spring sale, but consolidated to a single sale last year.
Hirsch said this week that volunteers had collected about 150 percent of the volume of clothes it would have had at one of the twice-yearly sales.
"It started off very small — just a group of parents who thought this could be a fun way to recycle clothes and maybe make a little money for the school," Hirsch said. "We would sell a lot of clothes, and people were so excited to have really nice clothes at cheap, cheap prices. We used to price everything at, I think it was a dollar.
"It steadily grew, and we're now at a point where we're doing just this one big annual sale. ... We also outgrew the cafeteria space, so the idea now is we'll be in the gymnasium and hopefully fill the gym."
Not everything is priced at a dollar anymore, but bargains are still plentiful with everything from shorts to hockey skates in the mix and most items priced for just a few dollars or less.
The pricing is done by volunteers, who occasionally use references like eBay or retail catalogs to get a sense of an item's true worth ... and then slash that figure significantly.
"This little bottom that was $42, we'll probably sell for $2," Hirsch said, paging through a catalog.
"It's a great deal for people. The price comparisons give us perspective to see how much these things sell for and how much we're actually saving families. ... A family could come in here and outfit two kids for a whole year's worth of clothes for maybe 200 bucks or less. You can't even compare this to the experience of shopping online or shopping through catalogs."
And instead of giving paying retail markups, shoppers know that all of the money stays in the community.
"The PTO gets the money, and then the money goes to help with special events, field trips, even special classroom supplies that a teacher might want," Hirsch said. "What's great about this kind of fund-raiser is there's no cut for a fund-raising company. We're getting 100 percent after expenses. We have to buy the bins, and we're buying [display] racks and things like that, but after basic expenses, we're getting 100 percent, and you cannot beat that."
The last PTO sale brought in more than $7,000, Hirsch said. The sale has been increasing by about 20 percent each year, Hirsch said the hope is this year's goal is even higher.
"We're hoping we can hit the $8,000 to $10,000 mark in one day," she said. "We don't know. We'll see. But it will be really, really exciting."
About half of what gets donated to the PTO sale ends up going out the door to Goodwill, Hirsch said. At the other end of the spectrum are the clothes that are donated with the original tags still in place, probably because a child outgrew an item before he or she had a chance to wear it.
The elementary school sale has tried to establish itself as a high-end sale with rock-bottom prices, and it has built that reputation in the community, she said.
"We're very picky because we want the standard of the sale to be that you can come in and feel like you're getting almost new," Hirsch said. "You want the clothes you get at the sale to have a lot of life in them. Anything that's stained ... we really will get rid of it.
"We have people who mend for us, so if there's something that's really nice and needs a little mending, we can use it. We have a lot of washers. I would say 30 percent of the clothes are washed by us.
"Sometimes, we get really nice clothes, and we know all they need is a little love in the washer."