WINTHROP — The ideas spring spontaneously from Shandra Rubchinuk’s mind, like corn from a popper. Pop: There could be an after-school program. Pop: How about a group for mothers? Pop: What if there were an indoor playground that children could use while mothers shopped? Wouldn’t it be great if there were space for events?

The possibilities are limited only by Rubchinuk’s mind, which never seems to slow down and is as energized by her quest to give back to her community as it is to grow her business. She has the vision, the energy to pull it off and the clientele anxious to support her. Now all she needs is the building.

“I’m trying to do more,” she said. “I just don’t have the space.”

Rubchinuk’s secondhand store, Everything Kids, has taken over the first floor of her Main Street home. In addition to the three display rooms stacked high with clothing, toys and other supplies for children of all ages, there is the kitchen given over to material waiting to be sorted, cleaned and displayed. Then there is the barn, which has two floors full of supplies that she knows people certainly would buy if they could be displayed properly.

“I’m surprised the barn hasn’t fallen down,” Rubchinuk said.

Business has been good since the 35-year-old Rubchinuk opened her doors two years ago. She has developed a healthy stable of customers, almost all of whom are mothers, and is attracting new customers at a clip of about 15 per week.

“I thought I would play in a sandbox and help a couple of customers,” she said. “It’s totally the opposite. I never imagined it would be this busy, but if it wasn’t I’d be out of business.”

Her daughter, Aalayah Rubchinuk-Chase was 2, and her son, Luke Chase, was only 6 months old when the family moved into the house at 24 Main St. in November 2012, shortly after Rubchinuk ended a long-term relationship with the children’s father. Rubchinuk lost her job at Central Maine Powersports in Lewiston just a week before learning she was pregnant with Luke, and she chose the house because it provided the space to run a store and raise a family. She opened her doors in January 2013, just two months after moving.

“The only way to make it was a home business,” Rubchinuk said. “I refuse to live off the state.”

She sometimes works up to 100 hours a week, but those are hours spent at home, raising her children, which has always been her goal. Her experiences with day care centers had left her disappointed, not to mention brokenhearted.

“I knew I needed to be here with my children, and this is what I needed to do,” Rubchinuk said. “I had two toddlers. I opened (the store) to be home with them.”

FLEXIBLE HOURS

When deciding what kind of business to open, Rubchinuk went back to what she knew best: Sales. She had spent most of her life working retail, from Sam’s Club to operating her own ice cream truck, and was at Central Maine Powersports for five years before she was laid off because of the soft economy.

Rubchinuk’s experience as a mother is just as important, she said. She knows what mothers are looking for and keeps up to date on the latest trends to help serve her customers better. Rubchinuk even maintains certification to do car child seat safety checks, which she offers free of charge.

“I’m a real mom. My kids are running around,” Rubchinuk said.

There were any number of businesses Rubchinuk could have opened, but her social consciousness led her open a secondhand store. She said every community should have such a store or program to help reduce waste. Rubchinuk, a vocal advocate for the “shop local” movement, said she had shopped a lot of the stores before opening Everything Kids. The experience was not always pleasant.

“I knew I could do a better job,” she said. “My whole philosophy is to treat others how you want to be treated.”

That philosophy means making it easy to shop, having hours that are convenient for stay-at-home mothers and those who work outside the home, as well as providing quality customer service. “I really appreciate my customers,” Rubchinuk said. “Nobody is going to bother me if they knock on my door at 7 p.m. Going out of your way to help people goes way beyond that one customer.”

Sometimes that customer service means a lot more than finding the right toy or high chair. It can mean spending time talking things over with an anxious new mother or giving a sympathetic shoulder to someone feeling overwhelmed.

“Sometimes people just need someone to talk to,” Rubchinuk said. “Sometimes they want to tell their story. Sometimes I’m the only adult they talk to all day.”

FROM SCRATCH

Angela Dakin, of North Monmouth, has found comfort in some of those talks. Dakin, who has visited Everything Kids nearly every month since it opened, is raising her 3-year-old granddaughter. Dakin just happened to notice Rubchinuk’s store one day while driving by.

“It’s very personal when you go in,” Dakin said. “It’s a nice outlet for me. I don’t have too many friends my age that are raising their grandchildren.”

Dakin said Rubchinuk has a good eye for children’s gear and knows how to price it fairly. That is important for Dakin and her husband, who were starting from scratch when they took in their granddaughter.

“It’s been a godsend, to tell you the truth,” Dakin said. “We didn’t expect to raise another child. It saves a lot of money. I can get high-end clothes in very good condition for a third of what it would cost in stores.”

Dakin, like a majority of Rubchinuk’s other customers, also has traded in gear. Rubchinuk said customers also are drawn by her reimbursement rate, which is half the price Rubchinuk estimates the items will sell for in the store. Everything Kids paid out $12,000 to customers in 2014 and $14,000 in 2013.

Whatever Rubchinuk does not sell goes to Tabitha’s Closet, a mission of the Winthrop United Methodist Church that gives away toys, clothes and other supplies. The mission fits with Rubchinuk’s passion of giving back to the community.

Rubchinuk is proud to be a businesses owner in Winthrop and is eager to support other owners and the community in which they work.

“We all have to take care of each other,” she said. “That’s why I’m here after two years.”

Success has not translated into extreme profitability, Rubchinuk said. She works with tight profit margins to balance satisfactory payment to customers who trade in products with customers coming in hoping to buy those products at reduced rates.

“I am living and paying almost all my bills,” she said.

Rubchinuk has no regular employees, but she has a group of people who will help prepare items for display, stock the shelves or watch the store if she has to step out.

“I have moms who get store credit, and they love it,” Rubchinuk said. “Moms are the best friends you can possibly have. Moms get it. There’s no way I could be in the motorcycle business with kids running around.”

Rubchinuk said customer service begins long before it gets to the customers. It starts with lots of hard work. Rubchinuk washes all the clothes that come into her shop and, by her estimate, about 90 percent of the toys and other gear that go on display. The process not only takes up much of Rubchinuk’s time, but also has taken up her kitchen.

“Last night I was up until 1 (a.m.) trying to get clothes out,” Rubchinuk said. “I’m pretty much always working. My kids don’t mind it, but they don’t know any different.”

NEW SPACE NEEDED

Rubchinuk is anxious to have her house back and expand her business at the same time. The extra space she would gain with a move off-site not only would streamline and speed up the preparatory work, but also would allow Rubchinuk to display large items that she can now show only in the summer on her front lawn. She also could accept more of the material brought in by customers. As it is, she has to turn away a few people every day simply because she has no room. Parking, which is limited to her small driveway and on the street, is a problem. “My process is broken because I don’t have the right facility,” she said.

Rubchinuk is ready to move her business, but finding a landing spot has proved difficult. She said she needs about 2,500 square feet “at a reasonable rent.” She has investigated a few spots and is still hopeful that at least one of them will pan out, but her search continues.

“I really would like to be in Winthrop,” she said. “In town would be perfect, and it would bring business to the downtown.”

Rubchinuk said her dream is much bigger than just operating Everything Kids in a new location. She envisions a secondhand store dedicated not just to children, but catering to women or the community at large. There would be space for a community center that would host after school programs for “tweens and teens,” and then there is the indoor playground.

“If I get it open it will sustain itself,” Rubchinuk said. “It’s going to take baby steps to get there.”

Rubchinuk said she would have to triple her sales to afford the move. That might sound like a scary number, but based on last year’s business increase and the pace she has noticed already this year, Rubchinuk sees no reason to shrink from the growth demand.

“I think it would be easy, to be honest with you,” she said.

Even if it proves difficult, Rubchinuk is determined to do whatever it takes to make it work. Returning to a job outside the home, away from her children, is just not an option.

“My children and this store are my ideal job,” Rubchinuk said.

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4


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