Sarasota's Woman's Exchange Donates to Arts Organizations

Sarasota's Woman's Exchange turns secondhand goods into gold for arts organizations.

By Ilene Denton August 26, 2014 Published in the September 2014 issue of Sarasota Magazine

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The Woman’s Exchange is bursting at the seams. The venerable nonprofit consignment shop on South Orange Avenue, which has donated more than $7 million to local arts organizations and art-student scholarships since 1962, hopes to break ground this fall on an additional 5,000-square-foot building on nearby Rawls Avenue. “We sell so much clothing—35,627 pieces last fiscal year alone, not including purses, shoes or jewelry—that the new building will have a laun-dromat-like conveyor system that will hold 7,000 to 10,000 items,” says executive director Karen Koblenz.

“This is a huge volume business. Most businesses would be happy to sell in a year what we sell in a month, which is on average 12,000 items. Our biggest sellers are clothing and accessories for women; besides soft pieces, we average 278 pairs of shoes and 278 purses sold every month. It’s not uncommon for us to sell jewelry priced from $500 to $3,000.”

“There used to be bus trips [to the Woman’s Exchange] from other parts of Florida. People would pile out to go shopping. We were mentioned in two recent novels, plus Lara Spencer [one of the hosts of ABC’s Good Morning America] included us in her book, I Brake for Garage Sales. We made her ‘Best Haunts’ map. One of our employees recently took an African safari and when she told one of her fellow travelers what she did, the woman said, ‘I know the Woman’s Exchange.’”

“Between 100 and 150 people bring us goods to consign every consignment day. We give our consignors 65 percent [versus 50 percent or less at other consignment shops]. We’d like to work on improving [the donation rate]—only 5 percent of goods are currently donated.”

“We’re debt-free. We own our main building, and we plan on self-funding the new building. Once the new building is built, we’re looking to expand our household goods sales in the form of estates. It’s such a win-win; family members can donate to the Woman’s Exchange and know the money is going to benefit the arts community, and they’ll get an itemized statement for their taxes.”

12,000: Average number of items sold each month.

1,500-plus: Average number of costume and fine jewelry items sold each month.

$250,000: Amount awarded to area arts organizations and art-student scholarships last fiscal year.

260 and 22: Number of volunteers and paid staff.

Photography by Mark Farmwald