Somehow Ron Angotti has survived his first two months in the helping business --despite running the cheapest, strangest and probably most imperiled thrift store on West Colfax. His Colfax Thrift Store, two blocks west of Sheridan, has become a bargain among bargains, a port in the storm for needy families and even their pets, a place where the idea of "charitable donations" applies to the stuff going out as well coming in.
Whether the store can stay afloat is anybody's guess. But Angotti is committed to a simple principle. "Making money," he says, "isn't a reason to crap on humanity."
Former Strasburg restaurant operators, Angotti and his wife Debi opened the thrift store in September with the aim of raising money to launch a sobriety house. They were open only a couple of days, though, before an elderly homeless man wandered in from a sleet storm in tears. He was barefoot and had no money for clothes.
Angotti decided to change his business model on the spot. People can pay the price listed on the stickers of his merchandise, he decided, or they can just make whatever donation they can afford. Limit of five items, to keep people from walking away with the store.
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The pay-what-you-want approach has worked elsewhere, most notably for the SAME Cafe, subject of a February Westword feature. Angotti has seen customers taking naked advantage of the system, paying a buck for five costly items that they then try to sell elsewhere. But he's also seen people grateful to be able to clothe their kids and people paying more than something is worth, just to help out.
Some customers stayed overnight during the big October snowstorm. He has babysat for a homeless guy's dog and tried to keep coffee and snacks around for the hungry. His stock of couches has gone quickly, and there's a constant need for more work boots and men's jeans, not to mention clothes for kids.
"Some people who come in just need a hug," he says, "but others need a lot more."
Angotti is still working on the sobriety house idea. For more information about the store, check out the website here.