FARMINGTON — Touch of Class is humming.

Customers pull items from racks and hold them up to the light for inspection; workers bring new items from the stockroom in back. And the register is ringing.

The nation’s economy may be in the tank, but Touch of Class’ thrift store on Wilton Road and its sister location in downtown Farmington are busy, with sales numbers staying up there and more customers than ever coming through the doors.

Touch of Class and Touch of Class Too offer quality donated goods sold in a boutique atmosphere.

“We wanted it to be a place that would be attractive to every person, so people would feel like they’re shopping upscale,” said Linda LaRue-Keniston, executive director of Work First Inc., the 36-year-old program for adults with developmental disabilities that operates the two stores.

These days, LaRue-Keniston said, the stores are benefiting from the fact that thrift is trendy; recycling and reuse are in, and “green” is almost everyone’s favorite color. Plus, people know that the money they spend goes to help pay the men and women who work at the shops.

LaRue-Keniston doesn’t just talk up the stores’ bargains, she wears them. “I don’t wear anything but clothes I buy at the thrift store,” she said.

All of the items the stores sell are in good condition — dirty, torn or worn articles are weeded out. Much of it has been lightly worn, some not at all. Some still bear the original retailer’s tag.

Prices range from $2.99 for a good T-shirt to $10.99 for a pair of jeans. Name brand clothing, often in like-new condition, is priced slightly higher.

Work First founded the first Touch of Class store about a decade ago at its 309 Wilton Road address, less than a mile from downtown Farmington. In 2006, the store moved into a new 5,000-square-foot, $1-million building. Last year it opened Touch of Class Too in leased and renovated space on Broadway.

Sales have grown virtually every year before leveling off this year, perhaps due to the economy.

Kristi Powell, the head clerk at the Wilton Road store, said sales revenues may not be increasing, but foot traffic in the store continues to grow. As many as 200 people shop there on weekdays and on Saturdays, the store’s biggest day, it can easily reach 450. The two stores draw customers from throughout Maine and even New Hampshire and Vermont.

“People who once would have been embarrassed to come into a thrift store aren’t any more,” she said.

She emphasizes that the stores’ biggest benefit is to the people with developmental disabilities who work there — hanging and steaming clothes, sorting donations, helping out on the sales floor and learning to use the register.

As many as 15 of the agency’s 67 “consumers” may work in the two stores on a given day, up to 40 put in time there during the week. They get paid for it, and it’s work that helps bring meaning to their lives.

“Quite honestly, I like making a paycheck,” said Sherrie Zlotnick, who is learning to work the register. “I also like the customers, but the paycheck is the best.”

“I like steaming and earning money” said employee Stacy Greenman.

Knowing that their shopping habits are making a difference in the lives of real people is one reason some choose the Touch of Class shops.

“Many customers mention it to us,” LaRue-Keniston said, adding people who donate say it feels good knowing the clothes are staying local and they’re supporting people with disabilities.

Karen Russell, left, learns to work in a retail setting at Touch of Class Too thrift shop in downtown Farmington.

Touch of Class Too is at 28 Broadway St., Farmington; 778-3236.

Both stores are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week

The stores accept clean clothing donations; bins are located outside the Wilton Road store.

Through Work First, a nonprofit agency that serves men and women with developmental disabilities and mental
retardation in Franklin and Somerset counties, the stores provide jobs for dozens of men and women with developmental disabilities. In addition there are four part-time clerks and a part-time manager.


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