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Renfrew store owner sets up business to raise money for others

A Renfrew woman started a non-profit second hand store where every month proceeds of sales go directly to a different charity so that th

Sandy Gombik of Renfrew is known as a generous business women, a lover of pets, volunteer extraordinaire and others refer to her as an angel.

Some say Gombik is their personal angel watching over them and providing care at a time when they are most in need of a miracle. Others say she is an angel with a heart of gold for all that she does to help anyone who has fallen on hard times. For anyone who owns a dog or cat that has been groomed and pampered by Gombik or members of her dog-groming staff, they call her an angel who watches over the little four-legged creatures.

How does Sandy Gombik see herself?

Never one to seek the spotlight, she is modest and humble. Yet many in Renfrew think it is high time to point a giant spotlight on a woman who has quietly brought positive change to hundreds, if not thousands of people over the years by her devotion to help those most in need and to make sure they are treated in a dignified manner and shown the respect they deserve.

As the owner of On the Clothesline Thrift Store in downtown Renfrew, she said she is blessed to be surrounded by positive people who want to help others.

"When I opened up the store at the beginning of 2019, I wanted to ensure that we not only helped local groups that rely on donations to survive, but I wanted to make sure our seniors are not forgotten," she said. "We were fortunate that such a large location opened up for us. It was sad when the Sears store closed and this giant building was left unused so what better way to help our most vulnerable than to take an empty spot and fill it with positive people who all want to make sure nobody is left behind."

Her thrift store is one of the largest in the area and it relies completely on donations of items that are still of some valuable and will be attractive to somebody. The profits from its sale will go on to help someone else. There is never a shortage of donations because when someone wants to rid themselves of excess household items and find out their donation will be used to help others, they pack up the vehicle and end up at the store's loading dock.

It is a loading dock where the receiving door is rarely closed.

Her business model will never land her a spot among the rich and famous who enjoy their million dollar homes along a lake or river. The premise is simple. Rely on a dedicated group of volunteers to help sort, clean and sell the donated items. At the end of the month,she pays all the bills that help keep the doors open and the lights on and 30 percent of the remainder is donated to a local organization.

“Each month a new non-profit organization’s name is literally drawn from a hat,” Gombik said. “The organization receives 30 per cent of the gross profits for that month. Then someone from that organization is asked to come and draw a ticket from a hat and from that point on until the end of the month, we are raising money for them."

A very simple formula, but not a formula that is going to make anyone rich.

Sometimes it appears she has a twin because not only does the thrift store keep her busy, but she has owned and operated a very successful pet grooming business just a few steps from the thrift store. She opened Precious Pets in 2007 and the name of her business reflects her love of all pets.

There is also another important twist to the thrift store operation and it involves support for pets. Gombik is an avid animal lover, having worked in the pet industry for 38 years and served in the past as a cruelty agent for the Arnprior Humane Society. As owner of the nearby Precious Pets Grooming Salon, she would like proceeds of any donated pet-related items to go to the Arnprior Humane Society.

“The humane societies do a very hard job, with many heartbreaking moments, but many amazing moments as well,” she said. “It just wouldn't be me if I wasn't also thinking about helping the animals.”

She opened Precious Pets in 2007 and it is very rare to see a client leave the store worried about the care and condition their pet will be exposed to, sometimes up to an entire day while they wait for their turn in the grooming chair. They know Gombik and anyone else at Precious Pets cares for their loved one just as they love their own.

"Can you think of a better way to start your day than to have a different dog or cat dropped off at your doorstep and the little furry ones know they are in for some personal grooming and they enjoy the experience," she said. "Sure there is the odd time a pet doesn't react well to the noise and presence of others waiting for their turn to be spoiled, but we deal with it."

Just as her second business devotes money, time and resources to local community groups, the same is true for Precious Pets. For several years dating back to 2010, she devoted proceeds from nail clipping to the late Keith MacDonald. He was a well-known fixture in Renfrew as one of the few blind individuals with a guide dog and he tirelessly raised money to help train guide dogs.

He was seen everywhere around Renfrew with his dog by his side either advocating for accessibility for persons who are visually impaired or selling CNIB raffle tickets at one of the local grocery stores. Up until his death in 2019, he had help from Gombik to get his message out.

"I can't say enough about Sandy (Gombik) and how she always came through every May to help me raise money to make life a little easier for blind folks like myself," he said in an earlier interview. "I will always be thankful to her for donating all the profits from nail clippings done in the month of May. Her kindness and generosity helped a lot of people become a dog owner with a trained service dog."

The list of organizations she has helped over the last three years is astounding when you consider she, like so many other local businesses, had to struggle through the darkest days of COVID when nearly every small business were affected by the mandated shutdown of their operations. The local food bank, amateur sporting clubs, youth club and seniors centres are just a small sampling of some of the groups she has helped through donations.

Whether it is a few hundred dollars or an amount in excess of $3,000, it is money that is greatly appreciated every month by the lucky recipient

Another way to raise money, and a method that literally was the difference between keeping her doors open or shutting them for good is the online auction, and it is held every week since it was launched just prior to the pandemic.

"COVID hit so many local charities so hard because fundraising is their method to keep programs running and COVID took away most of their traditional and very successful charity fundraising events and that meant less services for the programs they provide for people who may be having a tough time," she said. The launch of our online auction really threw us a lifeline because although we could not open our doors to the public, we could still raise money through the auction."

The online auction, found on Facebook,with the first auction of each month featuring items from the thrift store and sometimes donations. The auction continued after the economy started to reopen and with Christmas just around the corner, she smiles as this is one of her favourite times of the year.

"We have customers spend a lot of time looking for a unique gift that although it might be used, it means the world to them to be able to buy it and give as a present to someone," she said. "A lot of our regular customers are on a very tight budget and you can see the pain and despair in their faces sometimes when they feel overwhelmed by the stress of shopping for Christmas gifts. Sometimes just a little hug and a positive message can turn their whole day around."

Last year she had a volunteer come in from the local senior's centre and Gombik allowed her to roam the giant store and select items for a number of gift baskets. Each of the 25 large gift baskets had a theme and the items showcased that theme. The baskets were auctioned off and proceeds went to local seniors to assist them through the holiday season.

One walk through the numerous aisles and thousands of items ranging from chairs, couches, antique buffets, purses, tools, kids items, boots and so many it would take until Christmas to list them all and one thing stands out. The items are not only affordable, but some are sold for only a fraction of their true worth.

"We have some customers who come through our doors and one look tells you they have been beaten down by the pressures of the world and some of them have absolutely nothing," she said. "I try to make sure nobody leaves the store needing an item that is meant to get them through the day and times like that we will make sure they get those necessities one way or another."

The good cheer and best wishes for the holiday season are not just token words inside 'On The Clothesline Thrift Store.' It is a common practice for the volunteers who are there every day, but for the customers who leave the store feeling better than when they arrived. “We are not here to make a fortune, but to make others fortunate,” Gombik said. If you are putting up this year's Christmas tree and realize you can't find the angel to place at the top of your tree, take a break and stop in at the downtown Renfrew thrift store. It is there you may discover what many others have. There is an angel alive and well in the little Ottawa Valley town, and that angel is not looking down. This angel is always extending a hand-up and not a hand out to those who just need a little positivity to help them through the day. On the Clothesline Thrift Store is located at 296 Raglan St. South in Renfrew. Donations are accepted and only resellable items are accepted

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