Shopping without your wallet

The Dumptique is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to find.

The parking lot was filled last Saturday at the Dumptique, next to the West Tisbury transfer station. Customers hustled inside ready to find buried treasure, a good book to read, or even a rolling pin or other kitchen gadget. You can pick up just about anything at this freebie thrift store; in fact, as one of the Times staff admitted recently, you almost feel like you’re shoplifting when you head out the door without paying.

“We have kitchen items, toys, a children’s area with clothing and shoes, a book area, a shoe department, a linen department, men’s and women’s clothing, a miscellaneous area, and we have a large table outside where we put things of interest. Things that might catch their eyes as they walk up to the entrance,” says unofficial Dumptique manager Richard Ridel. “Have a peek at that before you come inside.”

An Island gem, the Dumptique has a unique position among thrift stores — everything is free, and you can also unload some of your own used or unused items during business hours, but don’t expect a trash bag full of dirty laundry or a broken knickknack to find a home here. Even the Dumptique has its standards.

“We have to pay for our garbage, so if something is dirty, the volunteers will give it back,” Ridel says.

There are some misconceptions surrounding the place, he confided in an interview with the Times. “The first assumption is that we are the dump,” Ridel says. “We have to purchase recycling stickers; we have to pay for our garbage. The only affiliation we have with the dump is that we are fenced in with the dump. If the dump’s not open, we wouldn’t be open — like on holidays. Our hours are when we’re open for shopping, and a half-hour before closing is when they stop taking donations.”

Every staff member is an unpaid volunteer, including Ridel and his wife Barbara, who along with the extra expertise of one of the previous managers, Linda McGuire, keep track of the inventory and the scheduling. Before the pandemic, McGuire ran the Dumptique with Brigitte Cornand, a French artist here on a visa who had to return to France.

Ridel has done some digging to come up with a little history behind the 41- by 19-foot building. He found a funding request to the Farm Neck Foundation from Jean Wexler, manager at the time, dated 2004, the year the Dumptique was rebuilt to its current state. Ridel cites the beginnings of the place around 1994. A newspaper article dated the same year as the funding request says that the recycling shed gained fame as “Dot’s Boutique,” named after volunteer Dorothy West. The original purpose of the building was as a shed to store newspapers for recycling.

There are around two dozen volunteers who run the Dumptique these days, with four or five of them manning each two-hour shift. They’re lucky enough to meet customers from all over the country and beyond who are here visiting the Island. They all agreed last weekend that it’s a lot of fun to work with the customers and each other.

“We had a kid come in wearing a Spiderman glove,” said volunteer Jill Blue; “he left with a matching cape.” Then there was the time she found a mink hat, and another day when a baby lamb wandered into the Dumptique. It’s an unusual place filled with unique things. There’s a 20-foot-long chimney sweep broom available now, as well as straw hats and handbags of every size and shape. Another volunteer, Darleyne Barden Smith, said there are times when the volunteers ask each other what an item might be, because they don’t know themselves. Everything from surfboards to sleds to furniture can be found, not to mention all the other random “stuff” you might be looking for — or not looking for.

There are times, though, when volunteers have to turn away donations. Sometimes they already have too many or too much of one item, and other times things like ripped clothing or children’s items that might be a safety hazard, such as a crib or car seat, have to be declined. “A lot of them are recalled, and we don’t want someone to take it home and have their baby get hurt,” Ridel explains. They also won’t accept items like life jackets or bicycle helmets for the same reason. So if a volunteer returns the item to you, Ridel says, don’t take offense; they’re just following the protocol. Besides, there are plenty of other things you can donate to the Dumptique.

“Sometimes customers are looking to furnish a party or gathering, or they come in for material that they can use to make costumes for a play or party,” Ridel says. “There’s so much stuff there that if you come in with an open mind, you can say, I can use this for this, but not necessarily what you were looking for. Some people come for art and craft supplies.” There’s also plenty of clothing, some of it still with the price tag attached. There are all kinds of unexpected finds just waiting for the right person to repurpose them.

“The biggest surprise comes when people find out it’s free,” Ridel says. “They come and pick up something and they’ll say, ‘Maybe I should just get this,’ not thinking that it’s all free. Take it all! We try not to restrict people with what they take. You want it? Take it.”

The Dumptique, Old Stage Road, West Tisbury, is open Saturday and Tuesday, 9 am to 3 pm, and Sunday, 9 to 11:30 am. Donations are welcome up to a half-hour before closing time.