“Hate has no home here:” North End thrift store prioritizes community

Kellyn Doerr, Culture staff writer

A sign inside of Shalom Shuk, a thrift store located in a historic barn behind the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue on 188 North Prospect Street, shows shoppers there is a sale Feb. 4. Founded in 1855 the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue is Vt.’s oldest and largest Jewish congregation. (Mac Mansfield-Parisi)

As you walk through the thrift shop doors, hoping to find some treasures for cheap, you see a sign that reads prominently, “Hate Has No Home Here.” 

Shalom Shuk, a thrift shop run by the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue on N. Prospect St. in Burlington and acts as the Synagogue’s “giving arm.” Although the shop is run by the synagogue, it does not cater to only Burlington’s Jewish community; the store is open to everyone.

Located in a historic barn on the synagogue’s property, former manager Kay Stambler opened “the Shuk” in 1999 as a rummage room and turned it into a thrift store for the community.

Stambler mentored current manager Karen Robair and handed over the reins in 2016. Robair said she brought the store into the 21st century while still maintaining Kay’s vision of bridging gaps in the community and making it the forefront of the store’s purpose. 

As a donation-only thrift store, fostering good community relations and giving back to its members is its goal, Robair said. 

“‘Shalom’ is ‘peace’ and ‘Shuk’ is ‘market,’ so we’re literally ‘the peace market,’ and we practice it every day,” Robair said. “We keep our prices low because we are there to make sure that everyone in the community dresses nicely and feels good about themselves.”

Robair and the Shuk work closely with the immigrant community in Burlington, assisting with the essentials they need to start their lives in Vermont.

“They see Vermont Refugee resettlement then they come to us,” Robair said. “We get them the things that are needed to start their homes and proper clothing. We’re there for the community. Anyone can give me a call and they’ll be taken care of quietly.”

In a Feb. 9 email to the Cynic, The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants Vermont representative Laurie Stavrand stated that the Shuk is used to help refugees that come to their shop.

“When we receive newly arriving refugees, one of the welcoming gifts they each receive is a Shalom Shuk voucher which enables them to select articles of clothing that will meet their needs in Vermont’s climate,” Stavrand said, 

Although Robair said she has been asked many times to raise the prices of the items in her shop, especially amid the pandemic where all businesses have suffered, she has refused.

A sign outside of Shalom Shuck welcomes visitors as a marketplace of peace Feb. 4. Shalom Shuk states it is dedicated to serving the local community and dedicated to helping new Americans and the underprivileged. (Mac Mansfield-Parisi)

“We don’t overcharge, we refuse to raise the prices and we care about the people that come into the store,” Robair said.  “People think it’s just a regular thrift store, but the second they walk in they know it’s special.” 

If an item doesn’t sell at regular price, it goes onto the dollar rack and if it doesn’t sell there, Robair will donate the items to other foundations and charities who will take it, she said. 

The Shuk partners with Champlain College and St. Michael’s College to collect items and clothing from students. When Robair brought forth the idea to UVM, she said that they have refused or not returned her calls. 

Robair said that has been escorted off the campus by security when she’s tried to collect the items herself. 

“Something Kay taught me was, ‘It is better to ask forgiveness than permission,’” Robair said. “I want the stuff these students are throwing away, it can be put to good use.”

The Shuk has managed to stay open through the pandemic and continue to help the community due to the mass donations and support.

Robair said that she believes that the Shuk serves as a safe space. It doesn’t matter one’s religion, social or economic status, she said that anyone is welcome in her shop and she strives to make everyone who walks through the doors feel at home. 

“If we can make one person’s day exceptional then we have done our job,”  Robair said. “That’s our goal. It’s to make people know and feel they are loved and wanted, and they are needed in the community, and they have something to offer, everyone does.” 

Robair said she believes that Shalom Shuk’s community-oriented ideas should be translated into everyday life and practiced even if you haven’t stepped foot in her shop. 

“If you come at something with love you’ll always be successful. Every day I think to myself what else can I do to help my community,” said Robair, “We’re always trying at the Shuk, always.” 

If you have unwanted clothes or items, consider donating them to Shalom Shuk on the OZ Synagogue’s property at 188 North Prospect Street Burlington, Vermont.

Donations are accepted 11AM and 4PM Sunday – Friday.