North Texas Daily

Mister Thrift: Being cheap for a cause

Mister Thrift: Being cheap for a cause

June 14
10:12 2013

Renee Hansen/Senior Staff Writer

A bell chimes a charming tune as a father and his young, pony-tailed daughter walk through the doors. The owner doesn’t miss a beat, making his way from the register toward the visitors, dodging the antique grandfather clock standing majestically by the front counter.

“Do you want to pick out a toy?” store owner Wilson Melton asks the toddler. Her squeal of joy answers him as she curiously looks around the chest of toys and nearby books Melton offers freely to any child who walks through his doors.

But shiny trinkets on the higher shelves beckon the child’s attention within seconds as she and her father move through the rest of the thrift store.

Melton, 48, a Dallas native, runs Foundation for Special Education, Inc., a benefit thrift store at 920 Dallas Drive in Denton built to help fund and promote special education programs in the public school system.

“My main drive is to have an impact on the schools, to go in there and buy something they couldn’t,” Melton said.

The inspiration for the store came from Melton’s son, Austin, who was diagnosed with a processing disorder. Melton’s wife, Nicole, was part of the parent advisory board and saw how little funding was put toward special education programs in the Dallas school district. It was then that Melton and his wife had the idea to start a benefit store.

That was just two years ago, and now Melton’s idea has turned into a 5,000-square-foot treasure trove of donations, ranging from antique grandfather clocks to golf clubs to hamster cages, including a 1,000 square foot storage area in the back.

“I said, ‘Let’s try to get 10 warehouses full before we start,’” Melton remembers telling his wife. “Next thing you know, we have 30 warehouses full and we’re not even open.”

His son Austin, now 12, is not only a fan of the store but also appreciative of his father’s actions.

“I think it’s really cool because, you know, I’m also in the special education thing and it’s really cool that he’s sort of helping out,” he said.

From the beginning, Melton’s objective was to use the store’s revenue to boost the shrinking budget of the education system. However, the budget of running a thrift store itself has been quite an obstacle, causing him to put each dollar toward rent and upkeep of the store.

“If I could just get more people in, I could really do some good for the community,” Melton said.

Donations, on the other hand, are not lacking whatsoever.

Many are the result of estate sales that Melton has combed through, based on established connections through his work in the storage business. He’s the clean-up guy, the trusted, called-upon man who arrives with his U-Haul after a sale and picks up all the items that were left, waiting to sift through it all until he gets back to the store.

Ralph Willard, an estate liquidator, has worked with Melton for a year to connect him with sellers, but has also donated furniture and many household items to the store himself.

“I like to donate to places where it makes a difference for someone, and he makes a difference with kids with learning disabilities,” Willard said. “He does a wonderful job.”

But these aren’t average next door neighbor estate sales. Melton has been known to pick over an estate sale from the executive vice president of Dr. Pepper, in his words, “getting real cool stuff.”

And this “stuff” has attracted people from all over, including a Dallas movie company, Mpressive Films, which came in a few weeks ago and picked up various odds and ends for upcoming horror productions.

There’s something for everyone at Foundation for Special Education, Inc. For the hipster, a clothing rack labeled just for them stands proudly at the front of the store with fringed shirts, vintage sweaters and bohemian vests.

Nearby is a compartmentalized table full of records and just beyond that is a room that houses a prized treasure: a fresco-style painting by Jane Wright that Melton said was probably bought for around $7,000.

But not all pieces are so pricey. Due to the range of items brought in by donators, Melton has a plethora of trinkets and small items. Rather than clutter the shelves with each one and take away space from bigger-ticket items, Melton decided to open up the storage space in the back of the store and use as a dollar store on Saturdays.

He would like to keep it open throughout the week, but he said he just does not have the help needed to do it.

With all of the revenue going toward rent and maintaining the building, Melton barely has enough to cover the wages of his one part-time employee, Sidney Neel, a junior at Ryan High School.

Despite leading a busy high-schooler’s life, Neel is “just a text or phone call away,” often coming in throughout the week and on Saturdays, helping Melton in whatever way he needs.

She runs the register, prices items and when it comes to clothes, Melton agrees that she is a big help in deciding what’s “hipster.”

Neel is not a rookie to the thrift game, for she was even a customer to the store before starting work a few months ago. Given the variety of items, the mood of the store is always changing and Neel says that’s why she likes it.

While she may be the only one on the payroll, Melton has a special employee that volunteers his time whenever he comes to visit – his son Austin.

And being the boss’s son has its perks.

“I really like it there,” the boy said. “There’s actually a couch in the back I can sit on if I don’t feel like working right then.”

On a good day, the store will see about 30 people come through its doors, Melton said. But that isn’t enough to satisfy Melton’s dreams for the shop.

In pursuing a bigger crowd, Melton has expanded his horizons via social media, starting up an Instagram page called “Go Thrift” that highlights new and original items waiting for purchase at the store. But if that isn’t enough to attract those college kids who peruse Instagram in their spare time, Melton is offering a student discount every Tuesday with a valid student ID.

Those who do come in like the store and what it has to offer, even when they were not looking for anything, like Nickie Vu, who initially heard about the store through a girl in her student organization, North Texas Sweethearts.

Vu walked out pleased, carrying her prized find, a plush white chair. She said she had been in the mindset of looking for furniture since she’ll be moving into a house soon, but she didn’t expect to actually find such a winner at a thrift store.

“12 bucks, that’s awesome,” she said with a laugh.

The generous outpouring of donations by Denton alone has made an impact on Melton and has just spurred on his desire to serve this community even more than before. But for now, he just wants to keep hearing that bell chime.

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