x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Remembering Abu Dhabi’s secondhand institution

Volunteers and customers alike express their disappointment as the thrift shop at St Andrew's church compound in Abu Dhabi closes after 40 years.

Kingly Cruzado, 4, his brother Princely, 1, their mum Queeny Cruzado and her sister Nerisa Loyola. Jessica Hill for The National
Kingly Cruzado, 4, his brother Princely, 1, their mum Queeny Cruzado and her sister Nerisa Loyola. Jessica Hill for The National

After more than 40 years of service to the community, Abu Dhabi’s only thrift shop has been shut down until a new home can be found for it. Located in the St Andrew’s church compound in Mushrif, the shop was being temporarily housed in a marquee structure and had been due to move to an adjacent building later this month. However, due to several church denominations requiring space, the shop could not move there.

Something for everyone

Customers included everyone from investment bankers from Siberia to day labourers who owned little more than the clothes on their backs. Even soon-to-be brides and grooms would go there to get kitted out for their wedding day. Items on its shelves reflected the community that it served: headscarves, suits, kanduras, abayas, school uniforms, cocktail dresses and saris.

“In the summer, construction workers would want caps, to keep the sun off their heads, or drinks bottles,” says Graham Box, the volunteer manager. “We always gave them things really cheap, or free if they looked desperate. I remember one guy who came in for weeks looking for a new wallet because his was in tatters. We always got a lot of donations of purses and handbags, but not wallets. He laughed so much when I finally found one for him.”

A Hungarian mother visited the shop once a week over 18 months to buy children’s books. In October, she returned to her home country with a container of 10,000 books bought at the shop, to help children at a local school there learn English.

Sharon Osei-Tutu from London used the shop as a library – she would buy books there for a dirham each, then donate them back when she had finished with them.

Labour of love

The shop is missed by the 30 to 40 volunteers who kept it running smoothly each week. One volunteer had been involved for more than three decades.

New York University students and Duke of Edinburgh Award students from the neighbouring British School Al Khubairat volunteered there. And GCSE pupils learnt about upcycling through visits to the shop.

The Australian Jillian Kucyk says she volunteered at the shop for three years. “I loved the fact that there’s a purpose in helping people in the community who need our help,” she says. “And seeing items not wasted and being recycled, that’s an important aspect.”

Treasure trove

Queenie Cruzado from the Philippines was a regular who would often queue up outside for the doors to open. She bought a cot and a pushchair for her two young sons, a Spider-Man costume for her son’s birthday party and her prize buy – a Givenchy bag she got for Dh15, worth Dh1,000.

“This was the only place I could afford to buy designer items. For Dh100, you could fill two bags with stuff,” she says.

Cruzado’s sister, Nerisa Loyola, adds: “I am a maid and I cannot afford to buy expensive things. I used to get excited whenever I went in. At this time of year, many Filipinos would have been buying Christmas presents there to send home to their families. I really hope they find another place for it.”