“Twenty quid for these boots? Are you joking?” the red-faced woman snorts at the cashier.
The boots – soft brown leather and immaculate – are flung back on the racks, for the volunteer staff to pick up, dust down, and put pack on sale.
SevenStreets is perusing the book shelves in Bold Street’s busy Oxfam store. The charity is part way through its second annual Bookfest, and we’re in the market for a steamy page turner.
But the heated exchange at the counter wasn’t what we were browsing for.
“Are you turning into a public limited company now? It’s outrageous…” the disgruntled boot-browser shouts as she bulldozes her way back into the crowds of Bold Street.
Just another afternoon in Oxfam. Oh, and no, it’s not about to turn itself into a PLC any time soon. It will remain a charity working in 30 countries – our own included – on a range of life-changing projects.
That’s the focus. Not cut-price footwear. Surely we’ve enough of those shops in town anyway?
It’s true, Oxfam isn’t the cheapest charity shop in Liverpool. But it’s one of our best. And as spokesperson Stuart Fowkes explains, every penny of any boot-related bonanza goes towards the kind of stuff that’s even more important than a clean pair of heels.
“We’ve got a responsibility to everyone who donates to us, to get the most money for their items,” Fowkes says. “Often, people will just donate one or two pieces, to see if we price them sensibly. If we don’t, we’ll run out of stock. It’s as simple as that.”
And, unlike those sweat-shops in India supplying the city’s other boot stores, Oxfam sources its stock from us.
“Much of our stock – especially books and vinyl – was once part of somebody’s cherished collection, and people will only part with it on the understanding that we’ll price it sensibly. That’s why they’re giving them to us in the first place.”
It’s a fine line, of course. But – SevenStreets can confirm – the boots were a steal. Sadly, they weren’t in our size…
We’re guessing it’s the ‘charity shop’ thing. People expect a bargain here?
“But Oxfam isn’t about getting a bargain,” Fowkes says, “It’s about raising as much as we can to help for our projects in the UK and abroad.”
Current projects include work in Haiti, and in famine-blighted West Africa. But Oxfam is busy here too – working to achieve equal pay for men and women, amongst other things.
“If we start just chucking everything out for a couple of quid, our donations would rapidly start to dwindle,” Fowkes says.
“We have to keep prices keen, and we do, but our aim is to get great stock in, so that we can support the work we do.”
It’s something Bold Street store manager, Gerrard O’Flanagan knows only too well…
“When people are prompted by a natural disaster, the donation levels are fine, but other than that, it’s a constant struggle,” he tells SevenStreets, “and when times are tight, it’s understandable that people start thinking about selling things on eBay, instead of donating to us.”
It’s hard to believe, as you look around Bold Street’s eye-catching displays, and groaning shelves, but stock’s at an all-time low.
“At any one time, we’ve got 8,000 books out on display,” says O’Flanagan, “But turn over is high, and, especially during Bookfest, we’re desperate for new stock.”
Bold Street’s store is known for its books, vinyl and retro fashions. SevenStreets spotted some seriously great reads, and a rare Kraftwerk remix, and we had that surprising, eclectic and thrilling shopping experience you just don’t get down at the other end of town. And that’s thanks in part to a team, at the back of the shop, with a keen eye for the good stuff.
“A couple of months ago, someone donated a copy of Please Please Me, in stereo,” O’Flanagan recalls. “And we sold it for £1,300. But the majority of our stock is just the great value, hard-to-find stuff you don’t see anywhere else.”
The Beatles money? All of it went to Oxfam’s Haiti Appeal.
“It’s items like this that make people appreciate our store, and travel here from all over the region. We’re not quite like other charity shops,” O’Flanagan says as he shows SevenStreets a particularly tempting selection of Superman comics which, he hopes, could fetch upwards of £700.
Still, he’s got his work cut out if he’s to beat the current Oxfam book-selling record…
“Two months ago, a mystery donor gave us an unusual book of photographs, documenting two Victorian scientists’ quest to find their long-lost brother in Fiji in 1881,” Fowkes recalls.
“Our experts valued it at around £2,000. But in the end, it fetched more than £37,000 in auction at Bonhams. Now, if we don’t take the time to price items sensibly, we could have put it out for two quid. And, in doing so, lost £36,698 for our project work.”
So, you see, that’s why the boots are twenty quid. Any takers?
37 Bold Street, Liverpool
Tel: 0151 709 6739
This Saturday, 17 July, as part of Bookfest 2010, Oxfam’s Smithdown Road store will be inviting you to pit your wits against the collective brain power of the Atticus Chess Club, and Patricia Mackrell will demonstrate and explain the health benefits of Tai Chi and Chi Kung.