Kim Watson of Sister Thrift Store (Fiona Grisswell photo - 100 Mile Free Press)

Kim Watson of Sister Thrift Store (Fiona Grisswell photo - 100 Mile Free Press)

Sisters Thrift Shoppe makes connections

Sisters Karen Robertson and Kim Watson are the creative force behind store in 108 Ranch

A prayer for connections is always said before the door to Sisters Thrift Shoppe opens.

It’s part of the daily ritual for sisters Kim Watson and Karen Robertson, who see the thrift store as a way of giving back to the community – especially to young adults with mental health issues.

The store, next to the 108 Mile Mall, currently employs four young adults and two volunteers, who suffer from social anxiety, depression and other issues. The sisters’ mission is to provide them with the tools and support they need to succeed.

Watson said her son, who doesn’t live here and hasn’t been diagnosed, didn’t have the same opportunities.

“He’s never been offered the support that we offer and so he struggles all the time.”

The sisters always had a lifelong dream to open a thrift door. As kids, they would dig around in the rubble of demolished buildings in Vancouver looking for teacups or little bottles.

After years apart – Watson spent 15 years in the U.S. – the sisters decided to pursue their dream when they reconnected last year. As retired counsellors – Watson was in employment and Robertson in addictions – they decided they wanted to do more than just make a buck.

They saw a need for mental health support in the community, and Watson said they decided to “just try it.”

Part of their mission statement is to “reduce and recycle donated items while providing a safe teaching space for personal growth and employment skills.”

The store gives young adults a safe place to connect with others and work for a few hours a week. At the end of their shift, they are allowed to choose one item to take home.

It helps to build confidence.

“They feel proud, feel useful,” said Watson.

Working at the store gives employees the space to deal with feelings of anxiety if they arise. Unlike a traditional job, they are encouraged to take a break and try to work through the moment.

One of their employees had been unable to make probation in previous jobs because their anxiety and depression was overwhelming.

“It’s so defeating,” said Robertson.

Another employee has severe social anxiety, she said. He comes at the end of the day to help out with tasks that need to be done after closing such as the garbage and recycling. The customers are gone but he is still able to contribute.

It can be a learning curve for some of them, especially being in the workforce.

Watson and Robertson have a list of standards their employees and volunteers are expected to follow.

They should arrive showered and dressed appropriately for work, which starts as soon as they walk in the door.

One individual showed up in clothes not suitable for the workplace. She didn’t want to go home – the usual protocol when this happens – so the sisters provided some clothes off the rack.

It showed them she wanted to be there.

The sisters do more than help the young people in the store.

They donate all the afghans they get to the hospital for the seniors. They also put together boxes of clothes for those in the community who are in need. They add the extras like a nice dress outfit, shoes, winter coats and hats.

“We’ve worked hard to get what we have here. We would not have the community, the connections that we have if we weren’t doing what we said we were going to do,” said Watson.

The sisters say the work is rewarding and reminds them of thrifting with mom and their childhood dream.

“Mom raised us thrifting,” said Robertson. “Mom’s here and she’s enjoying what we’re doing.”



fiona.grisswell@100milefreepress.net

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Karen Robertson and Kim Watson, the vision behind Sisters Thrift Shoppe. (Fiona Grisswell photo - 100 Mile Free Press)

Karen Robertson and Kim Watson, the vision behind Sisters Thrift Shoppe. (Fiona Grisswell photo - 100 Mile Free Press)

Karen Watson (Fiona Grisswell photo - 100 Mile Free Press)

Karen Watson (Fiona Grisswell photo - 100 Mile Free Press)