DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR
KINGSLAND — Bill Lewis turns the lamp around a couple of times at the check-out counter. He examines several places on the lamp and makes his pronouncement.
“You know, that one is from the ‘Ding Dynasty,’” he informs the woman purchasing the lamp. For a moment, she looks at Lewis with a confused look. Then, Lewis, taking the lamp in his hands, points at a spot on the lamp’s glass body. “You see right there? That ding.”
He doesn’t have to say anything else as the woman gets the joke and laughs. Several other people nearby smile and chuckle as well.
Welcome to the Disabled American Veterans Thrift Store, where people are more than customers.
“Everyone who walks through that door, well, you’re walking in among friends,” Lewis said. And he, along with a cadre of volunteers and a few folks who just enjoy hanging out at the shop, make it a point to keep it that way.
The DAV Thrift Store, located at the corner of RR 1431 and Dan Street in Kingsland, supports Chapter 198 of the Disabled American Veterans, which is located just down the road. But the store is more than just a source of funds for the chapter.
“We’re here to support all the veterans and their families if they need something,” Lewis said. “And the community. I think one of the biggest things we hear about the store is, ‘I thought you were just for veterans.’
“But we’re not. Anybody can come in here,” he added.
As people walk through the door, Lewis calls them by name, and if he doesn’t know their names when they walk in, it’s a good bet he’ll know them before they walk out. He and the other volunteers rib each other and the customers. It’s part of the enjoyment that comes from shopping at the thrift store as much as making those incredible finds.
A tour of the shop reveals a large selection of clothes, housewares, books, shoes and many other things in the main building. Out back, two large sheds hold larger items, including furniture.
“We try to rotate our stock, you know, it keeps things interesting,” Lewis said. “And if you notice, there’s no price tags on any of our things. We’ll wheel and deal with people on things.”
Many of the store’s customers are on fixed budgets or living close to the bone. Lewis and the other volunteers understand they’re supporting the DAV chapter and local veterans (as well as paying the monthly thrift store bills), but they’re also very aware of the needs of the community. Sometimes, it’s a matter of just helping a person or an entire family.
“We’ll send out bags of clothes if somebody’s lost their home in a fire,” he said. “We’ve done that.”
Children can go through the boxes of toys in the back and take any they want along with books.
“We don’t charge kids for toys or books,” Lewis said with a smile. “I just love having the kids here.”
Lewis pays attention to the people who visit the store. If he senses they need something, and maybe they don’t have the money for it, he or the other volunteers will find a way to help them. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of sending them out the door with a coat for the cold weather or letting them buy some furniture on a payment plan with no interest.
Other times, it’s not about an item at all, but helping someone get somewhere. Recently, a young woman walked in the thrift store and asked if there was any way they could help her get to her father in Oklahoma who was very sick. The volunteers — made up of members of DAV and its Ladies Auxiliary — went to work. While they couldn’t get her all the way to Oklahoma directly, they found a local member headed for Lamesa who would give her a ride. In Lamesa, they coordinated another ride to Oklahoma — and her father.
Back at the front check-out counter, Lewis jokes with more customers. He directs a man to some golf clubs — woods in this case — toward the back. When the man returns and tries to give Lewis some cash for the clubs, Lewis shakes his head and says, “No, you just feed those boys.”
The man, Lewis explained, creates animals out of the old clubs and sells them. He then takes the money and treats several special-needs men to lunch or dinner.
“I’m not going to charge him for that,” Lewis said. “He’s doing something good.”
As customers — more like friends — roll in through the store, Lewis greets them, gives them something to laugh about when he can and makes them a deal as much as he can. Two other DAV members enjoy the show from nearby seats.
All three credited the ladies auxiliary for how well the thrift store looks and runs. Lewis admitted he might be the face up front, but it’s the women in back who make it all work and come together.
While there had been concerns about the state of the local DAV chapter and the store, Lewis said things are actually going well. New members are always welcome at the DAV as are donations and customers at the thrift store.
And it doesn’t matter who you are, because when you step in that front door of the thrift store, you’re one thing to the volunteers and regulars inside.
“Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?” Lewis added.
Call the store at (325) 388-0891 for more information or to make a donation.