Thrift Shop co-workers praise Capriotti
If all moves were as productive as the Ridgefield Thrift Shop’s, no one would stay put.
In May 2017, the non-profit — which has operated in Ridgefield since 1937 — left its cramped quarters on Catoonah Street for a 5,000 square-foot location on Governor Street, more than doubling its interior space and gaining parking space for customers and donation drop-offs. The results have been astronomically impressive: After setting a record with $500,000 in donation grants to 70 local non-profits in 2019, the Thrift Shop obliterated that mark by awarding $750,000 in grants to 92 non-profits earlier this year.
A driving force behind the move and the Thrift Shop’s rapid growth in donations, sales and grants is Sandra Capriotti, who recently ended her two-year term as president. Capriotti’s colleagues believe she deserves much of the credit for the back-to-back record setting.
“She has transformed the small shop on Catoonah Street to a powerhouse that now draws customers from New York City, Greenwich, Brookfield, Danbury, New York state, and beyond,” said Anita Vallee, one of the Thrift Shop’s 100 volunteers. “Sandra is a remarkable professional who is dedicated to the mission of our shop and to enriching our community. She is an extraordinary leader.”
“I may have started the ball rolling but it would have not gone very far without you,” wrote former Thrift Shop president Mary Ellen Loncto in a letter to Capriotti. “I was amazed at your knowledge and experience about construction and how attentive you were to the details.
“Then, when the crews started, you were there, day and night, to oversee everything,” Loncto continued. “When I saw you bringing in their lunch (and you knew their favorite foods, too!), which you cooked at home in the wee hours of the morning, I was blown away. Importantly, you got the plumbers, electricians, carpenters, painters, floor guys, to do exactly the right things.”
Read those comments and it’s hard to comprehend one fact: Capriotti was rejected when she first applied as a Thrift Shop volunteer, shortly after moving from Chicago to Ridgefield in 2006 when her husband accepted a job transfer.
“I was turned away because I did not have any references that worked at the Thrift Shop,” Capriotti said. “My only reference was the man who had built our home in Ridgefield. That wasn’t good enough.”
Seven years later — after her youngest child had left for college — Capriotti found herself with some free time. She was in a book club with the Thrift Shop’s vice president at the time, Sabine Heym-Kloeckner, who encouraged Capriotti to volunteer. Capriotti did so and was accepted, becoming general manager for the transition to the new location and then store manager before being chosen as president in 2018.
“Everything from my past experiences gave me the tools to help RTS (Ridgefield Thrift Shop) accomplish the mission,” wrote Capriotti in an email to The Press. “My family was in the restaurant business, so from an early age I was taught customer service. When I was old enough to actually start working at the restaurant, my dad handed me a toilet brush and told me to start cleaning the bathrooms.
“This was not what a teenage girl had in mind, however I realize that experience taught me the value of hard work. When I graduated college I became an art teacher but needed supplemental income, so I worked evenings at Macy’s in the crystal, china and silver departments, where I learned about the finer items. When my brother opened his psychiatric practice, I managed all aspects of the practice. I [also] learned from my other brother, who is a builder, how to turn a vision into an actual constructed project.”
Capriotti said the move has been instrumental in the Thrift Shop’s growth.
“The new space provides so much of a pleasant experience for our shoppers,” she wrote. “It’s roomy, there’s ample parking, and people who visit the Thrift Shop continue exploring Ridgefield’s fantastic shops and restaurants. Of course the larger space allows us to accept many more donations, which improves our buyer’s choices and, ultimately, allows us to make more money to give back to the community.”
“Your vision for the shop was huge,” Loncto wrote in her letter to Capriotti. “I recall you saying that the people in Ridgefield are expecting a very nice shop and you stopped at nothing to achieve this goal.
“I always love it when people walk in our shop for the first time and the surprised look on their faces when they see it — ‘I had no idea this shop would be as nice as this!’ ” continued Loncto. “I have heard it over and over during the past three years.”