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Long Island

Long Island tag sale tales: St. John's Episcopal Church thrift shop

This summer, we're asking Long Islanders to share the stories behind the family heirlooms and beloved belongings they sell at yard sales, thrift shops and antique stores.

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Zee Morrissey, of West Sayville, says that over
Photo Credit: Rachel Weiss

Zee Morrissey, of West Sayville, says that over the past five years, she's gotten her exercise.

"If you volunteer in a thrift shop, you're going to be doing a lot of lifting and moving," she said. "You don't sit all day long, so you have to be physically active."

Morrissey is 68, but calls herself "timeless." She has been volunteering at the thrift shop attached to St. John's Episcopal Church in Oakdale since it first opened. The church is one of the oldest on Long Island -- it was built in 1765 by William Nicoll III. The volunteers at the thrift shop encourage customers to attend Mass services or participate in their outreach programs.

Although the shop initially seems small, there are
Photo Credit: Rachel Weiss

Although the shop initially seems small, there are stairs leading up to three rooms filled with clothing, shoes, and toys and books for infants. The basement boasts books, DVDs and vinyl records. There is furniture, glassware and home decor on the main level.

The volunteers at the thrift shop, which is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., welcome regular customers by name and curious dwellers with a smile, and sometimes offer up a cup of tea or a loaf of bread from the bakery on Locust Avenue.

Morrissey quickly came up with her favorite parts of the job. "The people," she said, "and learning to be a better person. It definitely has brought me that. I also love to do display work. I love to organize, so there's always something like that to do here."

All day long, Morrissey greets visitors, accepts donations,
Photo Credit: Rachel Weiss

All day long, Morrissey greets visitors, accepts donations, packages fragile appliances, and places items on shelves. From 1975-89, she worked at a plant store in downtown Sayville, and has bonded with folks in the area. Morrissey said people often stop by the thrift store just to see her.

Of course, the job comes with its challenges, too. "For me personally, it's the donations," she said. "It's not like placing an inventory order if you're running a store. They can show up at any time, and in any abundance. So sometimes you can get a lot and then you have to find space for it and go through it, because sometimes things come in and people don't know if they're broken or torn."

She added, "I don't want to say we're the step before the garbage, but we do save things from going in the garbage. Thrift shops do that -- they're great for recycling."

One regular customer, Kathleen McCarthy of East Islip,
Photo Credit: Rachel Weiss

One regular customer, Kathleen McCarthy of East Islip, makes her rounds in the Islip area every Wednesday. In addition to grocery shopping, she always makes sure to stop by St. John's and a couple other antique stores around town.

"When I walk in, I like the way the jewelry is displayed," she said. "I'll look as I'm going up the stairs. It's always clean, it's laid out nicely. There's ... friendly workers here all the time."

Morrissey has added some of her own additions
Photo Credit: Rachel Weiss

Morrissey has added some of her own additions to the thrift shop. This vintage candy shop sign sits on one of the highest shelves in the store.

"I bought it an an auction years ago in Pennsylvania... I had it for 35 years," she said.

She guessed that the antique is likely from the 1930s, and brought it into the shop when she realized she wasn't using it as much as she did when she first purchased it.

"I used to use it at home [in the kitchen]," Morrissey said. "I'd put motivational sayings in it like 'Be in the now.' That used to be in there for quite a while, because it's easy to forget."

Even though it still hasn't been sold, Morrissey said she isn't concerned, and she knows it'll find a home in time. "My attachment to it is almost a trust," she said. "All things in the universe serve us to get back home to God."

Sitting on a rickety wooden stool toward the
Photo Credit: Rachel Weiss

Sitting on a rickety wooden stool toward the corner of the shop, Morrissey reflected. "I want you to look around," she said. "This is all the stuff people bought because they really loved it, and now they don't anymore. Or, they crossed over and it was brought in... We're looking for completion, because we feel incomplete."

Morrissey wants her customers to take away an experience just from being in the shop. For her, it's a two-way street.

"People buy an endless number of things because they really want to be in communication with other people," she said. "They get out of the house and they're shopping for the experience of joining with others. So a thrift shop is no different than anywhere else, in that respect. As someone who works in the thrift shop, I'm here to achieve personal goals, and my goal is to see everyone as my neighbor, as myself."

Morrissey said part of volunteering in the thrift
Photo Credit: Rachel Weiss

Morrissey said part of volunteering in the thrift shop is being a good listener: if someone doesn't have the means to buy something, she'll let them take it for free. And as far as cash donations go, Morrissey said the thrift shop's policy is "Leave what you can, take what you need."

"I would really love to run a thrift shop that way," she said. "Without charging for anything. But as I'm taking a survey with that idea, I've yet to have someone say yes. Wouldn't that be fun? Everything's free; just leave a donation if you can."

She added, "There's the attitude that if you just give a person a fish but don't teach them how to fish, then they'll just become more dependent and not independent. I don't know if I agree with that at all. We're teaching brotherly love when we do that."

Warm summer days or crisp fall afternoons are
Photo Credit: Rachel Weiss

Warm summer days or crisp fall afternoons are the perfect time for customers to venture to the tables outside the thrift shop, where donations are laid out around every corner.

Sometimes, it takes a bit of encouragement for those items to get there. Morrissey always makes sure to take a moment to chat with those who are having a hard time letting go of treasured possessions.

"When they're donating something, it's about the memory. That's really what they're giving up," she said. "Otherwise, they wouldn't be bringing the article in, but there was an attachment to a mother, father, a child being young... I guess it requires trust, too, that they're going to remember that person. That those days are in their heart and it's not going to go anywhere."

Morrissey added, "It doesn't cost us anything for us to learn to give; to be generous and kind."

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