Miriam Switching Post opens in Hanley Industrial Court
By Steve Bowman
Editor, The Brentwood Spirit
Anne Carr manages an 8,000-square-foot resale store in Brentwood so she gets to see a lot of cool, offbeat items every day. This week it’s a 1940s, art deco-style hair dryer that’s been converted into a lamp. A 1920s dentist chair with black leather upholstery. A vintage wood and metal baby stroller with a Six Flags logo.
But what she likes best about her job are not things but people, and that’s what sets the Miriam Switching Post apart from so many other resale stores in St. Louis. For 60 years it has existed solely to raise money for the Miriam School, and for the past nine years the Miriam Learning Center, in Webster Groves. Both are for children with learning disabilities.
Most of Carr’s employees are volunteers, so she knows they’re each giving up several hours a week for a higher purpose. Some have served for 20 years. Others have grandchildren who attend the school.
“My biggest reward is working with the 47 volunteers,” she said. “They’re a fabulous group of people, very dedicated.”
‘We’re not consignment’
The store sells what its website describes as “gently used furniture, antiques and home décor,” so it’s a far cry from a yard sale. Yes on solid wood and patio furniture, lamps, mirrors, rugs, quality dishware, crystal, silverware and jewelry. No on clothing, shoes, electronics, appliances and exercise equipment. The only toys are collectable toys.
“Most other resale stores either do consignment or purchase the furniture,” said Carr. “We’re not consignment, that’s a big difference. We have fabulously generous donors — people who don’t want to go through the hassle of consignment, don’t want to deal with people coming out to their house.”
Double the space in Brentwood
The Miriam Switching Post first opened in the 1950s in University City, then moved to Clayton. After 16 years in Maplewood, they needed more room and found almost twice as much at 292 Hanley Industrial Court, just off Strassner Drive. Before opening in September, they upgraded the building with a new storefront and added interior walls to separate out retail, storage and office space.
“We got so many donation requests that we had to turn people away,” Carr said of the Maplewood location. “Now parking is way better, our workspace is way better. It’s much easier to handle the flow of everything that comes through here. Our other location was two levels and the guys had to carry everything up a huge ramp.”
Now it’s all on one level and when you buy a large item you can drive into their rear garage and load it, out of the elements.
Though Miriam Switching Post accepts walk-in donations of selected small items, they offer free pick-up.
“We do limit our pickup area,” said Carr. “We don’t cross rivers — no St. Charles or Illinois. We just don’t have the resources to do that.”
Once accepted, items are processed and valued and tax donation letters are sent to donors. The merchandise is listed in an email sent to about 5,000 shoppers twice a week.
The store’s business plan seems to be working. It raised $370,000 for the school’s scholarship fund in 2014, then increased its revenue by about 20 percent in 2015.
It’s open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and until 7 p.m. on Wednesdays. Starting July 10 it will be open Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
About the school
Miriam School serves 96 students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, with average or above average intelligence, who have learning, speech/language, sensory/motor and attention disabilities.
Established in 2007, Miriam Learning Center annually serves 700 students ages 3 to 18 who attend school elsewhere but need specialized in-school, after-school or weekend support.
Miriam will open a high school in the fall in Town and Country, starting with a class of 10 freshmen.
Carr said part of her job is watching trends.
“Right now mid-century furniture is very hot,” she said. “Brown wood furniture is very out. The very classical pieces are harder to sell. But I just put a Crate and Barrel couch on the floor and that will probably sell within a day or two because of the name. We marked it $325 and it probably retailed new for over $2,000. If we get Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, Crate and Barrel, boy that goes fast.”
The store puts items on eBay that will get a higher price from a specialized audience.
“We have an Italian leather briefcase that would probably get $30 or $35 here but will get $100 online,” Carr said.
Another such item is an autographed copy of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 1996 book “It Takes a Village.”
Said Carr, “We’ll hold on to it and if she’s elected the value will go up.”