Local Thrift Shop With Community Mission


The Gold Mine Thrift Shop is a charity thrift store located in the heart of Cave Creek, Arizona. Along with many monetary charities, including the Foothills Food Bank, Horses Help, Tierra Madre and Foothills Caring Corps (all a part of the Good Shepherd of the Hills Outreach program), the Gold Mine continues a rich tradition of providing service and physical merchandise to those in need.

gold mine thrift shop logo

History of the Gold Mine Thrift Shop

tony kulinaBy former Gold Mine volunteer since 1998, Tony Kulina (left)
December 2013

Sources: St. Martha’s Guild meeting minutes, various written historical documents and personal interviews.

The roots of the Gold Mine can be traced back to the beginnings of the Good Shepherd of the Hills parish in 1947. The church, originally a mission outpost, was the only one in town and it was meant to be the center of the community serving all the various needs, both spiritual and physical. As with many churches, it was a core of dedicated ladies that organized and ran the many activities that held the congregation together. Among them were gatherings of fellowship for the church as well as the town, whether church affiliated or not. The actual seed of the Gold Mine was a regular rummage sale that was always successful.

gold mine thrift storeAs the church grew the ladies, originally as the Episcopal Church Women Group, reorganized themselves as the St. Martha’s Guild and expanded their activities. They decided that one of their efforts was worthy of being emphasized, and so with a little organization and effort the rummage sales were expanded into a thrift shop type operation with regular hours, operated by volunteers and stocked with donations from the church members and the community.

The idea was to provide not only a source of income for the Guild and its outreach projects, but to be a community service, a central rallying point to assist anyone in need. The store would become a means to recycle any and all donations and give them a second and useful life.

From the beginning, the rule was “we accept any donation as long as it doesn’t need to be fed.” Occasional exceptions were made when a horse and a dog were donated and resold the same day. In the late 50s the first thrift shop was located in a house on Cave Creek Road across the road from Luigi’s restaurant near where Spur Cross Road is now located. Jean Owen had complete charge of the initial operation with assistance from Kay Maitland, the wife of the first Rector of the church. Later, other vacant houses in the area were offered free of charge primarily because of the community service aspect.

Initially the store opened only on Fridays and Saturdays for a couple hours. The ladies were getting the hang of the operation and enjoyed some degree of success; and the Guild discussed whether to extend the days and hours. Now that a real presence had been established in the area, some thought was given to giving it an official name, and decided that “The Gold Mine” best described what the store was. One method used to attract customers was, just before opening, a few items would be “salted” around the store with unbelievably low prices. The customers would then be encouraged to rummage around the mine looking for those special treasures.

gold mine thrift store

In 1953 money was raised to construct a parish hall on the north side of Cave Creek Road to be used for the many activities of the church, and on Fridays and Saturdays the Gold Mine operated there. This building was named Nelson Hall to honor the first Vicar of the mission church. After the Gold Mine closed on Saturday everything had to be pushed aside so the space could be used for Sunday School the next day. There was an old wooden building in what is now the parking lot that was the actual church sanctuary. Then, in 1960 Nelson Hall was expanded to double its size.

The Gold Mine was truly dedicated to community service. Clothing was frequently given to the many needy families in the area; and the school nurse at the Cave Creek elementary school was given free access to shoes and clothing for any children she saw in need. The Gold Mine also gave her money for lunches to feed the children until the school district eventually began to fund the school lunch program from other sources.

The Gold Mine was a center where you could go and meet friends and catch up on the local news and often learn about a special need in the area, a need that might be met with a little effort by the Gold Mine and its volunteers. It is not difficult to imagine the spirit of community oneness that ran through the operation. The income generated by the store grew steadily over the years. Proceeds were distributed to many outreach projects designated by the St. Martha’s Guild. Operating costs were minimal, so most of the income was available for ministry, with a portion going into the church needs.

Bishop Joseph Harte consecrated the present church sanctuary in 1968. Within a year the congregation grew so that it was no longer designated as a mission, but a full-fledged church.

Then in 1977, the multipurpose parish hall on Cave Creek road was torn down and a new building of the same architectural design as the church was constructed to house the Gold Mine.

gold mine thrift store

The Gold Mine building was built at a lower level so as not to obstruct the view of the sanctuary. The hours of operation were extended to three and then four days a week, and the revenue continued to increase, reaching $30,000 per year. Operating expenses borne by the Gold Mine were small since the building maintenance and utilities were paid for by the church. The Guild oversaw all the distribution of all the funds into the community and beyond. Regular shipments of clothing were trucked and sometimes flown to the mission church on the Navajo Indian reservation. Requests for help came from other closer Indian reservations and were met as well.

The Gold Mine enjoyed continued success and revenues likewise grew to exceed $40,000 per year. Reverend Mikel McClain was assigned to the parish as assistant in 1988 and became Rector in 1992. He believed that the Gold Mine was truly a major ministry of the church and as such the administration and distribution of outreach funds was more appropriately a function of the church and the governing board, the Vestry. He obtained the support of the congregation and hired a local person with retail selling experience to be the first paid manager of the Gold Mine.

gold mine thrift storeGinny Lietman took charge of the operation and over the 11 years of her service in that capacity was able to increase revenues significantly, so that the approximately eleven year period grossed in excess of $100,000. The distribution of the funds to outreach ministries continued and expanded many fold. The St. Martha’s Guild eventually disbanded in the late 1990s, with Beth Hatcher serving as the last president of the organization.

The many functions of the St. Martha’s Guild were eventually taken over by separate committees of the church. The Gold Mine and the entire church owes a very great debt of gratitude to these dedicated ladies whose energies made such a difference in the early life of Good Shepherd Church.

The Gold Mine building was expanded in 2002 with the building of a 2400 square foot addition to serve primarily as storage space. In 2006, Ginny retired and Laura vanLeeuwen became her successor. Laura took over as another expansion was going on, this time a beautiful 4,000 square foot structure added to the south side of the building, with a bell tower facing Cave Creek Road. This served the multiple purpose of adding display space on the first floor, storage on the second, and a church presence along Cave Creek Road. During this period the revenues of the store often exceeded the $100,000 per year mark.

Randi Smelko is the current manager of the Gold Mine and The store has continued to have wonderful success. As church policy dictates, all revenue except the manager / Staff’s salary and the operating expenses go entirely to the many outreach areas. The ultimate beneficiaries are selected by an Outreach committee and include both local and foreign organizations.

It is fitting to mention some of the St. Martha’s Guild ladies who were so instrumental to the early success of the Gold Mine. They include Jean Owen, Kay Maitland, Dorothy Hiscox, Nellie Jones, Illa Phipps, Shirley Coyle Anna Wooldridge, Louise Dilatush, Ellen Moberg, and many others.

The current staff of volunteers is comprised of both church and non-church members, all dedicated to the various outreach missions and local causes. The old motto still holds true – “we’ll take any donation as long as it doesn’t need to be fed.”