Calling all thrifters: If you like bargains, make your way to southwest Florida. Goodwill alone has 29 stores in the five counties that cover the resort towns of Port Charlotte, Punta Gorda, Naples, Cape Coral, Fort Myers and Sanibel.
But only one of these stores is a Goodwill boutique, where the inventory is high-end donations, often new items with tags on. That’s the five-year-old Boutique on First, located on a prime corner on downtown Fort Myers’ main walking street, just a block from the library. Street parking is metered, so bring quarters, but definitely check out this attractive store.
Men’s and women’s clothing is arranged on racks by designer. There are separate rounders for Tommy Bahama, Liz Claiborne, Caché, Talbots, Chico’s, Ralph Lauren, Tahari, Calvin Klein and more. The men’s section is larger than most thrift stores and we saw fine items throughout, like a Brooks Brothers camelhair blazer, made in Italy, for $29.99.
Prices are higher than other Goodwill stores, with most items ranging from $7.99 (new Gilligan & O’Malley pajamas) to $14.99 (a Michael Kors shrug jacket) to $19.99 (a pristine London Fog trench coat). We saw a few Tory Burch blouses and Kate Spade shoes and handbags. There are top designer jeans among the multiple denim-only racks. There’s an extensive formal and wedding gown section, as well as plus sizes.
The store uses yellow stickers to signify a 50 percent discount on some items. We found a pair of maroon boiled wool Keds, trimmed in leather, for half off the $9.99 tag.
Donations peak during the vacation season, typically October through Easter. When the snowbirds return north, things quiet down.
We visited in March and can attest that the boutique’s two dressing rooms were in constant use, often with customers waiting in line. We observed one happy shopper find her dream wedding dress, a beaded bodice confection, for just $75.
“The boutique fills a niche,” explained Carolyn Johnson, marketing director for Goodwill Industries of Southwest Florida, Inc. “We have people who only shop at that higher-end store. It’s profitable for our mission and we get a lot of downtown foot traffic.”
And the mission is vital. Shoppers support job-finding efforts for entry-level workers and those with disabilities. Goodwill has outfitted an RV with computer stations to bring job opportunities to underserved communities. Job training, education, accessible housing, food assistance, teen support and a Trailways Camp for adults with disabilities are just some of programs supported from store proceeds.
For shoppers, visiting a Goodwill thrift store can mean a wardrobe change. For Goodwill clients, the stores can change their lives.
Boutique on First, 2401 W. 1st St., Fort Myers, FL 33901. 239-332-2026 Open Monday -Thursday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Sunday noon – 5 p.m.