DOVER >> A treasured fixture in the Deerfield Valley has taken over a troubled spot in town.
The Twice Blessed Community Thrift Store reopened on April 15 where the Red Oak Inn had been.
"We're really grateful to be here. The old place didn't have windows," said Mary Jane Finnegan, president of the nonprofit that runs the thrift store. "We have a lot of great sunlight."
She said syringes and balloons, which are used to hold drugs, were found when cleaning out the place. She also worried about the condition of children she saw living in the building before taking it over.
Police would receive calls regularly about tenants not getting along. There were reports of tenants' prescription drugs and other items being stolen from their units among other domestic issues.
"We were called there quite often," Dover Police Chief Randy Johnson said. "I'm absolutely tickled that they're (Twice Blessed) in there. I think it's a great move for them. There's more room for them. I'm very excited."
The previous owner, Don Mondani, had put the inn up for auction but no one made a bid.
"He called me and said, 'Let's make a deal,' and he let us come in here," Finnegan said. "He trusted us to do demolition and do stuff until we could get the mortgage and the town of Dover has been amazing, just amazing, so helpful."
Construction upstairs, which some of the volunteers dubbed the "South Wing," has not yet been completed. Once that's done, Finnegan said all the items will be on one side of the building. Then she hopes to have a commercial kitchen operation upstairs where pancake breakfasts, meetings and fundraising events can be held.
Finnegan said she thought people had "thrift-store withdrawal or something" because the day before opening, people were banging on the store's doors and looking in windows.
Twice Blessed began in Finnegan's living room. People would bring her clothes and she would give the articles out to those she knew needed them.
"Finally, my husband said, 'We don't have enough room, honey,'" Finnegan said, referring to her now-deceased partner.
The first building Twice Blessed occupied was across from the law offices of Cady & Dugan on South Main Street in Wilmington near the Village Pub, which Finnegan had owned until her sister took over the business after Finnegan's retirement several years ago. The next dwelling was in the Heritage building across the street from Wilmington Town Offices, behind the Masonic Hall and the former Old Home Center location.
After six years spent in those two spots, the thrift store moved to 716 Route 100, also in Wilmington. The property was home to many bars. Twice Blessed was located there for 14 years.
"It was an incredible space," said Finnegan, whose crew never thought they would be able to fill the space in the main room in the first days of setting up. Back then the back room was used for fundraisers, bingo and kids' activities. And slowly, the entire building was filled.
Eventually, in order to gain additional space, a tractor trailer body from C&S Beverage was purchased for $10 and two storage pods from Brattleboro Portable Storage were donated.
The former Red Oak Inn is going to be twice as big as the previous space, Finnegan said. Saving over the last 20 years to a make a down payment, she said the property will be the first that the thrift store has owned.
Some of the same volunteers from the beginning are still helping out, including Diane Prentice, Eileen Lombardo and John Lyddy. From the start, Finnegan said the premise was "everything would be donated, all our expenses would be paid then the rest of the money would be given out on an individual interview basis for people in need."
Residents of the nine Deerfield Valley towns are eligible to receive assistance from Twice Blessed. Annually, Finnegan estimates, between $75,000 to $90,000 goes back into the community. All types of needs are addressed with that money.
The thrift store has four paid employees and it works with a program that gets single parents back into the workforce, Southeastern Vermont Community Action, probation and parole, and a Department of Labor program for seniors. Students from the local schools also come and lend a hand as part of their required community service.
Twice Blessed's Holiday Giving Tree provides meals, warm clothes and toys for kids of all faiths, said Finnegan of the program held two weeks before Christmas each year.
The thrift store will still be closed on Mondays for now but Finnegan hopes to be open seven days a week after Memorial Day. Currently, its hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
A grand opening party is being planned. The store is loved by residents, second homeowners and residents, said Finnegan. She has heard Twice Blessed's name has come up in random conversations in Cape Cod and California.
Finnegan had a long list of volunteers that have helped. There's her cousin John Quigley, Heidi Dlubac, Maggie Hubbard, Regina Green, Betsey Reagan, Sue Spengler, Dan Kehoe and her daughter Marie Finnegan. And the friends who couldn't assist with the physical move provided emotional support, Finnegan said. Then there was People's United Bank, the Valley Town Church and a couple professional groups that contributed services.
About two-thirds of the items are still packed in rooms, according to Finnegan.
"Because we have so much stuff still coming in. Every time we think there can't be another attic, cellar or garage that isn't emptied in the valley, the girls say to me, 'Be quiet.' It's like a deluge. The generosity is overwhelming," Finnegan said. "Now, I'm just hoping we can continue serving the community. The nice part about owning the property is hopefully, this organization will go on certainly long after I'm here, which has always been my goal, that this can just continue."
Contact Chris Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.