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Updated: September 4, 2023 Shop Talk

Q&A: A thrifty business pays it forward

A phot of Cheri McCutchen in the Blessing Barn Photo | Courtesy of The Blessing Barn Thrift Store Cheri McCutchen, director of Compassion New England

If you watched Good Morning America in June, you might remember a feature on The Blessing Barn, the barn-chic home store in Mendon specializing in upscale thrift and consignment sales in support of charitable community giving. With more than $1 million in annual sales, The Blessing Barn Home Store and Sharing Center and its sister locations in Mendon and Boston support the nonprofit Compassion New England, where Cheri McCutchen serves as director.

A bio box about Cheri McCutchen, director of the consignment store and nonprofit
A bio box about Cheri McCutchen, director of the consignment store and nonprofit

Bethany Community Church in Mendon, which has provided the nonprofit financial support since 2003, purchased the four-story barn building that would serve as an iconic anchor for a burgeoning thrift store enterprise. In September 2020, The Blessing Barn Beacon Hill opened doors at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. In March, The Blessing Barn Bookstore opened next door to the flagship barn store in Mendon, providing job skills training to people with intellectual disabilities.

How did The Blessing Barn and Compassion New England begin?

The impetus was that through our local church, we were always getting a lot of phone calls for people who needed help paying their electric bills or heating bills. Some youth group members held a small church yard sale in 2003 and stored the unsold items in a small barn. Then, following Hurricane Katrina, we collected donations of new clothes and household items for the victims of the flooding and made countless trips down to deliver the items.

That set the stage for partnerships to do things to make a difference in the community. We started offering crisis care and working with local agencies to find help for people in need.

You’re a real estate agent by trade. How did you become the director of a nonprofit thrift store?

I wasn’t the person who ran the nonprofit, Compassion New England, to begin with. For years I have sold real estate with ERA Key Realty Services in Whitinsville, and I could really see I needed to shift the business model from a church store to what it is today: more of an Anthropologie, more of a Magnolia Home.

How do you create that atmosphere in a thrift store?

The model is excellence. What does your store smell like? Most thrift stores smell like Febreze, if they’re not musty. We don’t have that here. We don’t try to sell what we cannot sell. We don’t try to take up space with things we can’t sell. We have a specific approach to sorting donations. It’s our trade secret.

Nearly all of our success comes from being good business people. Once my daughter-in-law, Marilyn McCutchen, started telling our story with daily Facebook and Instagram posts, we really started to grow. My daughter, Christi Morais, is a designer, and she uses her skills here. Christi is the person who, when we opened The Blessing Barn in its current location in 2015, said “This building is an experience. We’re going to keep it that way.”

Our team is trained to tell customers our story: We are a nonprofit making a difference, meeting local needs. That story is told a million times a day, in all our stores, and it has an impact.

How did you land on Good Morning America?

They were looking for a thrift store to feature, and they saw Marilyn’s Instagram posts and our customer ratings. We've had the best responses.

Opening a store in Beacon Hill during the pandemic seems challenging.

We knew we had the capacity and the business model to sustain another store. I had, many years ago, seen a location, but it was very expensive. Because I sell real estate, I was trolling the options. A space became available. I asked if I could see it that day, and it was a done deal. The owner and I had some things in common, and he agreed to rent it to us for way below market value.

We were considered essential, so during COVID we could open The Blessing Barn Beacon Hill, our high-end thrift store. It gave us a foothold in the community to be one of the few stores open. We pay market price now, but it totally pays for Room in the City, our program providing lodging to families of patients in Boston hospitals.

Will you open a Worcester location?

The Crompton Collective is similar to what we do, but we’d be on a grander scale. You can hurt something already ongoing, so I’ve had some concerns about that.

This interview was conducted and edited for length and clarity by WBJ Correspondent Emily Micucci.

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