In 1979, the Board of Directors of Medicine Hat’s Canadian Mental Health Association began the groundwork for its very own second-hand store as a social enterprise. Ideally, the store was to be staffed almost completely by volunteers, with the exception of the store manager whose role would be overseen by the CMHA-ASER Executive Director. The idea of a paid manager never materialized, so a volunteer manager performed those duties. Operations would also be maintained by the Board of Directors. It was not until the new millennium that a staff member at The POST would be paid. The store was meant to be self-sustaining, as funding was not available to support the operation.
Originally, the store was prepared to sell donated products as well as consignment stock at a 10-15% charge. On a small budget, recruiting of volunteers had to be at no additional cost; all recruiting was therefore completed through newspaper, the radio, and church bulletins. Along with that strategy, numerous members of the original volunteers joined via word-of-mouth. Volunteers often had to pick up donations and transport them to the store themselves, while pleading with retailers to contribute. After the initial struggles of launching Medicine Hat’s newest thrift store, it was first opened in December of 1979 after a ribbon-cutting ceremony hosted by Mayor Reinhardt. Everything seemed peaceful, until the setbacks and difficulties began to arise.
It was quickly acknowledged that the Executive Director was unable to handle the role of management due to a lack of experience. A replacement was found shortly after. Board members were interfering with the volunteers’ work at the store. An attempt to “reach out” to people about the business by installing a “coffee corner” with free coffee and cookies was quickly abused by customers (paying and non-paying) and abandoned. When discussing whether or not to hire a paid manager for the store, volunteers reached a consensus that the consequence would be reduced morale, which was a dangerous philosophy to the store’s potential for success. To top it all off, the Allowance Avenue location had crime issues; back door locks were being broken and windows were being smashed.
Changes had to be made: the Board decided to distance itself from the store to allow more freedom for the volunteers, and a volunteer manager and assistant manager were brought in to the store, unpaid. Official store hours were decided at 11 AM to 5 PM, as volunteers generally would not want to work more than six hours at a time. The store also needed its own sign – as the existing sign at the time was for CMHA, which brought on stigma and hesitation by community members who believed the store was run by people with mental disorders.
The POST encountered several more growing pains before it became truly successful, including having to change location, three times! The POST had its moment in the spotlight when Prime Time television offered free promotion on a half-hour program. Ten years passed before the store changed its location the second time in 1988, and again several years later to its current location on Kingsway Avenue.
Through trials and tribulations, organizational changes, and with the help of the legacy makers that consist of Board members and volunteers that drove the POST’s success, it is now a successful store with a mix of volunteers and staff; all while being supported in their work environment no matter what state of mental health they may be in.