Burnet resident Alice Leech sorts through donations to the Herman Brown Free Library Thrift Store, a task the octogenarian has been doing since 1984, when she and three other women started the fundraising shop with four bags of clothing.
From volunteer to manager, Leech helped the thrift store grow from a table of goods in a real estate office to its current home at 105 W. Pecan St. in Burnet. On March 27, she plans to finally retire, though not necessarily to stop helping in the community.
“Oh, there’s always something to do, too much,” she said as she sorted through a pile of donated clothing. “But I am about to turn 89, you know.”
Leech certainly knows the history of the place. As part of the founding four, she saw the shop grow out of and into a variety of interesting spaces.
“We stayed at Billy Joe Fox’s (real estate office) for a little bit then moved over to the old jail,” Leech recalled. “We stayed there about two years or so. Then, we moved over to the Masonic lodge downstairs.”
Next stop: an old Burnet motel.
Neither the old Burnet County Jail nor the Masonic lodge had heating or air conditioning, yet Leech and the volunteers kept gathering, sorting, and selling items to support the continuing growth of the Herman Brown Free Library.
“With what we raise over here, it helps buy children’s books, big print books, DVDs, and things,” Leech said. “We help donate to the children’s programs as well.”
Under the auspices of the Friends of the Herman Brown Free Library, the thrift store helped the library pay for a 2,800-square-foot expansion in 2017. The shop, along with other sources, raised the $530,000 needed without accruing any debt. While she won’t say it herself, Leech’s smile revealed a bit of pride in knowing the thrift store’s work helped usher in a new era for the library.
Leech worked as a volunteer for the store’s first 15 years. In 1999, when it moved to its current location, the Friends group began paying her a small salary to manage the place. She credits a good staff and a strong body of volunteers for keeping the shop running efficiently and featuring quality items that bring in the customers.
“We get designer purses, you know, some that might cost a couple hundred dollars new, and we have them for $30 or $40,” Leech said. “We also get a lot of ‘what-is-its,’” Leech said with a laugh. “We’ll see something and say, ‘What is this?’ You never know what we’ll get.”
Finding out what something is or what it is worth sometimes takes a little sleuthing. One of Leech’s many strengths is knowing where to go or who to ask to determine a value. She aims to keep items affordable while always remembering the mission of the thrift shop.
“It all goes to supporting the library,” Leech added. “If the librarians need something, we do what we can to help them out. That’s why we’re here.”
After 36 years with the Herman Brown Free Library Thrift Store, Leech’s time “here” is coming to an end. She said she will miss the work, the staff, the volunteers, and the customers. As for what she’ll do with all of her free time in retirement, Leech isn’t one for just sitting around.
“I don’t know,” she said when asked. “I’ll find something.”