5 years ago, Bob and Sonja opened “What a Deal” Thrift Store in downtown St. Johns at 8953 N. Lombard across from Baxter Auto Parts. Sonja had always wanted to open a thrift store and after 10 years in Hawaii, they moved to St. Johns to take care of Bob’s ailing mother. The decision to come out of retirement and start a thrift store hung on one caveat: Bob said he would only agree to open one if it didn’t smell like a thrift store!
When you walk into the business, you’ll notice, there isn’t a whiff of dust in the place. That’s because Bob meticulously cleans, mends and fixes each item that comes through their doors before it goes onto the shelves for sale. You can find just about anything inside this shop: band t-shirts, dresses, baby clothes, kitchen items, board games, original art and jewelry, Christmas decorations and more. It’s all carefully categorized and priced to sell. Their goal was to create something good for the neighborhood, a store where anyone could find something they need or want at a great price, hence their tagline “Everyday items for Everyday People”. They’re like a mini-Goodwill but with Goodwill’s OLD prices, Sonja explains. They get all of their items from community donations. Over the years, they’ve seen some interesting donations. They once got a junk drawer filled with mainly paper clips, half used receipt books and miscellaneous paper scraps but under all of that were 3 gold teeth. They took the teeth to a metal smith shop and got $180!
If you’ve walked through their doors, you’ve likely experienced that it’s more than a thrift store. There is a feeling of “aloha” here. Bob and Sonja both agree that “a lot of nice happens here”. There is a seat at the counter where customers are welcome to sit and chat, Bob and Sonja greet each customer with a smile and they’ll help you find what you’re looking for, even if they don’t have it in the store. Once, a customer came in looking for a notebook but they didn’t have any in stock. Another customer overheard the question and said “I’ve got one in my car that I’m not going to use, you can have it” and she went out to get it for her! Over the years, they’ve witnessed and received quite an array of kindness and generosity in the community. Bob described that people often say “keep the change!” when they’re paying for their items. Once, a couple came into the store, shopped a bit and then came back an hour later and said “We own a bar on Hawthorne and we’ve started a “Keep Doing What You’re Doing” fund, where we give out a little bit of money to people doing good work. We just really appreciate how you do business and how friendly, open and awesome you are, so here’s a check for $487, just because!”.
They see the occasional shoplifting from customers but they’ve got a straightforward good cop/bad cop vibe when dealing with customers. Sonja has an eagle eye in the shop to make sure things stay on the shelves and, for the most part, people respect the fact that they’re a small business who treats every customer like a friend.
It’s a family business. Bob and Sonja’s daughter, Sheila, helps manage the store and the inventory in the shop. Most days, you’ll find all 3 of them working at the shop from open to close. As Bob explains, the shop is their life. They work 6 days a week and haven’t taken a vacation in a long time but they’re passionate about the store and the community.
Outside of work, Bob and Sonja are both artists. Bob paints and sings, Sonja makes jewelry that you can purchase in the shop, along with creating pastels, drawings and collage work. You’ll often find them at Patty’s for Saturday night karaoke, where Bob does a classic Neil Diamond or Willie Nelson song. Bob and Sonja love the St. Johns community and they want to continue to be a great spot for deals and unique thrift store finds in the neighborhood. Stop by, say hello and find a great treasure today!
· Tuesdays are Senior Citizen day with a 25% discount.
· Military Veterans get 25% off EVERY DAY.
· When you bring a donation to the shop, you get 30% off your purchase.
· Don’t forget to check out their epic Christmas tree display (which takes 2 weeks to set up) in the front window of the shop in December!