October 25, 2014

New store offers alternative for mentally handicapped

Posted

STANDISH — A new business now occupies one of the vacant buildings in Standish’s downtown area, and it is bringing a new type of service to both its customers and its employees.

Penny Wise, which officially opened on April 5, is the result of owner Elaine Christie’s long-term goal of eventually opening up a consignment store in the area.

“It was a leap of faith,” Christie said.

Christie first got the idea to open the store five years ago when she walked into a similar kind of store in Bad Axe.

When Christie started working this past September to make the store a reality, she had a different plan in mind for how to staff the store.

“My son was my inspiration,” she said.

Drew, Christie’s son, has Down syndrome, and Christie said she wanted to create an environment where the mentally handicapped could thrive.

“There’s no place for them to go,” she said.

Christie also said that she is not trying to create any competition with Arenac Opportunities, which also works to employ the mentally challenged.

“There’s got to be an alternative,” she said.

Christie said that her store’s environment has plenty of different tasks for its employees, and it allows them to find what they do well.

“We take it step by step,” Christie said, explaining the steps that employees learn to take throughout their work at Penny Wise, including opening bags, looking the items over for damage, pricing the items, etc.

She said that some people are better at cleaning, while some are better at organization, and she tries to figure out what tasks work best for each individual.

One employee, Ronni Goretcki, works better at dusting, cleaning and organizing clothes.

“I get along with the customers,” Goretcki said.

Other employees, like Mandy Strick, also enjoy the interaction with customers.

“I can come here and help other people,” she said.

Strick said she has four different disabilities, and working at Penny Wise works with her disabilities.

“It helps with my communication skills,” she said. “This accommodates me.”

Christie also shared the story of one employee who rarely left the house, and working at the store gives him something else to do with his time.

“It’s good activity for them, and they’re learning good life skills,” she said.

Although the store is still very new, Christie said she hopes it grows over time.

“My dream is to employ 50 people,” she said.

Christie also said that working at Penny Wise allows employees to see the similarities among themselves and customers

“We’re all the same, just a little different,” Christie said.

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