Feeling thrifty? Check out Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ottawa's new second-hand clothing shop

Thrive Select Thrift store on Merivale Road provides ongoing revenue for non-profit organization, life skills and work experience for local youth
Susan Ingram, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ottawa, with board chair Mark Zekulin at a ribbon-cutting and reception held Thursday, September 15, 2022, for the non-profit organization's new Thrive Select Thrift storefront in the Emerald Plaza. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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If you want to make like Macklemore and pop some tags, there’s a new social enterprise thrift shop opening in Ottawa tomorrow.

With only twenty dollars in your pocket, you might find some awesome stuff, as the hip hop song goes, more or less.

The best part is, all proceeds from Thrive Select Thrift store support Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ottawa (BBBSO)'s youth mentorship programs. Thrive is also helping mentees develop a range of important life skills, gain work experience and build confidence.

The new boutique has been “a project of love” for everyone involved, BBBSO executive director Susan Ingram said at Thursday night’s ribbon-cutting ceremony and reception held at 1547 Merivale Rd. in Emerald Plaza. She came prepared with a four-page speech. After dreaming for years about this milestone moment, “I deserve four pages,” she joked.

Donors, sponsors and BBBSO board members got a sneak peek at the new retail space, formerly home to a TD Bank branch. Guests were also invited to look through the racks for special finds of good-quality used clothing for men, women, children and teens. As well, the gathering featured very affordable items from the store that were modelled in a fashion show, emceed by retail store manager Hope Wood.

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Susan Ingram, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ottawa, welcomes donors, sponsors and board members to the new Thrive Select Thrift store at 1547 Merivale Rd. in the Emerald Plaza. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ottawa will officially open its new Thrive Select Thrift store at 1547 Merivale Rd. in Emerald Plaza on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips

While some thrift stores can be dark, dingy and cramped, Thrive is a cheery place with teal walls and inspirational quotes. The new space has also been designed to serve as a community hub.

“I think it’s amazing,” said BBBSO board chair Mark Zekulin, former CEO of Canopy Growth. “It’s bright; it doesn’t have a Soviet feel.”

The social enterprise is helping to generate another sustainable stream of income for BBBSO. “As an organization that’s doing incredible work you need to have a variety of sources of revenue, so this is about expanding the revenue base,” said Zekulin.

The entrepreneur said he previously cleaned out his closet at home in order to make a sizeable donation of clothing for the new store. “I kind of don’t want to admit that some of my pants didn’t fit anymore,” he joked.

Since leaving Canopy, Zekulin has been doing his part to improve the world through his roles as founding partner at The Great Return and executive chairman of carbon reduction-focused Invert. Earlier this year, he and his wife, Linsey Sherman-Zekulin, donated $1 million to CHEO through their Happy Roots Foundation in support of early childhood mental health.

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From left, Lindsay Ostrom, board treasurer with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ottawa, alongside some of her fellow board members, retired school principal Colin Anderson, board president Mark Zekulin, and Leslie Rae Ferat and Feyifunmi Olunuga, at a celebration of BBBSO's new Thrive Select Thrift store on Merivale Road. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Ottawa-based architecture and design studio Linebox helped the non-profit organization, pro bono, with its space planning and selection of materials, some of which were repurposed. Its owner and principal architect, Andrew Reeves, is a former Little Brother. Once Reeves got old enough, he volunteered as a Big Brother and is still friends with his match, who’s now grown up and married.

It’s been “absolutely” rewarding for Linebox to be able to help with the project, said Reeves’ wife, Melissa Reeves, who’s the COO at Linebox. "They came to us with a teeny-tiny budget and I was like, ‘You can spend that much on paint or materials alone’. They ended up doing something they can be really proud of. They pulled it off in such a nice way.”

BBBSO was fortunate to secure additional funding from Ottawa Community Foundation, Ontario Trillium Foundation and the RBC Foundation through RBC Future Launch, a 10-year, half-billion-dollar commitment to help prepare Canadian youth for the jobs of tomorrow, guests heard.

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Thirteen-year-old Ashlyn Reeves with her mom, Linebox Studio COO Melissa Reeves, and Jonathan Huska, an intermediate architectural technologist who helped Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ottawa turn a former bank branch into its new Thrive Select Thrift store. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The store is located in a part of Ottawa that’s home to several second-hand clothing shops. While thrift shopping is a financial necessity for some, it’s also become more popular with younger generations wanting to develop their own sense of style, as well as those shoppers looking to reduce waste and consumption by reusing and recycling clothing.

“This social enterprise story started in 2015 when we began to look at new innovative ways to fundraise as an agency,” Ingram told everyone. “Our board of directors took a chance and approved purchasing five clothing bins.”

The organization, through support from community partners and grants, was able to turn those five bins into 25 bins, collecting more than one million pounds of clothes over the past five years, said Ingram. “Thank you for coming out and supporting this innovative and creative way of fundraising and for providing funds for our mentorship programs in Ottawa," she told everyone.

Speakers also included Chandra Pasma, NDP MPP for Ottawa West-Nepean; Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli, who’s also on the board of BBBSO; and RBC commercial account manager Mike Hons. Among those seen in the crowd were Grace Xin, vice president of philanthropy and community building for the Ottawa Community Foundation, singer-songwriter Tara ShannonTina Hill, a former board president and a lawyer at Greenspon Granger Hill, and Anouk Bertner, new managing director of Future of Good, a digital publication covering Canada's social impact world. 

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Anouk Bertner, managing director of Future of Good, was seen perusing the clothing at an event held Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022, to celebrate the opening of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ottawa's new Thrive Select Thrift store on Merivale Road. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Grace Xin, vice president of philanthropy and community building for the Ottawa Community Foundation, with Ottawa West-Nepean MPP Chandra Pasma at a celebration of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ottawa's new Thrive Select Thrift store on Merivale Road. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Hope Wood, the store manager of the Thrive Select Thrift social enterprise launched by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ottawa as an innovative way to fundraise, as well as provide important life skills and work experience to youth ages 15 and 24. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Ottawa lawyer Tina Hill, a former board president of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ottawa, with former board member Mitchell Kutney, senior advisor to the Office of the Chief Data Officer, at a celebration of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ottawa's new Thrive Select Thrift store on Merivale Road. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Mike Hons, commercial account manager with RBC, congratulates Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ottawa on the opening of its new Thrive Select Thrift store, a social enterprise that is also giving some 70 youth, ages 15 to 24, work experience. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Past and present board members with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ottawa, along with executive director Susan Ingram and Ottawa West-Nepean MPP Chandra Pasma, pose for a photo at the celebration of the non-profit organization's new social enterprise thrift store on Merivale Road. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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The celebration of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ottawa's new Thrive Select Thrift store on Merivale Road included a fashion show of affordable finds at the second-hand clothing store. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Mark Zekulin gathered with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ottawa executive director Susan Ingram and store manager Hope Wood for the ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of Thrive Select Thrift, a new social enterprise created by BBBSO. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Ottawa city councillor Keith Egli, who's also on the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ottawa, congratulates the organization on the opening of its new Thrive Select Thrift store, a social enterprise that's also giving some 70 youth, ages 15 to 24, work experience. Photo by Caroline Phillips
BBBSO
The celebration of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ottawa's new Thrive Select Thrift store on Merivale Road included a fashion show of affordable finds at the second-hand clothing store. Photo by Caroline Phillips
BBBSO
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ottawa officially opens its new Thrive Select Thrift store at 1547 Merivale Rd. in Emerald Plaza on Saturday, September 17, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips

caroline@obj.ca