A bittersweet farewell…
This photo depicts a few of the people who are especially sad to see the Elmhurst Memorial Pink Elephant Resale Shop. They are (from left): volunteer Kay Ryan, manager Patrick McDonald and Elmhurst resident George Slaidas, a Pink Elephant customer for 25 years. The store is closing as of June 30.

By Marisa Mancini

For the Elmhurst Independent

 

The Elmhurst Memorial Resale Pink Elephant Shop, an Elmhurst icon for nearly 35 years, will close its doors for good on Friday June 28, 2019. It will be greatly missed by many local residents.

The Pink Elephant, founded by Elmhurst Memorial Hospital in 1984, originally resided on Addison Street. It was run by the Elmhurst Hospital Guild, a volunteer organization who oversaw its management, staffing, and day-to-day operations. After suffering a fire in 1999, it relocated to 121 West First Street, where it remains today – at least until June 30.

Though the shop always generated a profit, the Elmhurst Hospital Guild determined the Pink Elephant needed improvement. In November 2005, Elmhurst Hospital hired Patrick McDonald to manage the shop. With seven years of experience as St. Vincent DePaul’s manager, and a former manager at Baskin’s Clothing Company, McDonald was a perfect fit.

“My first impression of the store was that it desperately needed updating and organization,” McDonald recalled. “I was particularly shocked that the price tags were stapled to the items, frequently causing permanent damage, and that there was no sizing system for clothing. Also, I noticed merchandise looked tired and was not moving. My philosophy for the store was to bring in fresh merchandise, and strategically display them to increase sales.”

Six months after McDonald started, Pink Elephant’s profits doubled and increased every year going forward. As purchases increased, so did the volume of high-quality donations.

“My biggest challenge was selling the volunteers on my vision for the store,” he stated. Most of the Pink Elephant volunteers were in their 70s and 80s, and McDonald had to win them over to change.

“Once they saw the store’s increased success, each and every volunteer worked hard to change and improve the store. It takes a village to run a store, and that’s what I was fortunate enough to get – a strong team of volunteers devoted to making this store great.”

 

Setting itself apart

McDonald’s efforts set the Pink Elephant apart from tradition resale shops. To attract and educate customers, it offered periodic seminars on a wide range of topics including accessorizing outfits, chalk painting, and glassware collecting. The store also put on a yearly (sometimes bi-yearly) fashion show showcasing outfits selected and modeled by the volunteers -– who also provided food and refreshments for the guests. Additionally, McDonald’s dedication to customer service elevated the tone of the store.

“I pride myself in instilling in each volunteer the desire to assist every customer that entered the store.”

Customers received the same personal attention they did at a department store. “The store became an upscale resale shop which I feel improved the image of the City.”

McDonald feels the volunteers changed his life in many ways. Witnessing their selfless dedication without expecting anything in return humbled and enlightened him. But what impressed him most was the dignity and respect the volunteers showed to every client, whether paying or in need.

“That’s what we were all about – providing services and goods to all who entered the store, because our business was to serve the community,” said McDonald.

 

Volunteers share their stories

Kay Ryan, a Pink Elephant volunteer for 10 years, first chose to volunteer because she knew it benefitted Elmhurst Hospital.

“My experience here has been very fulfilling,” she said. “The customers are wonderful and we work together like a family. I receive the most satisfaction picking out clothes from our store for the poor or homeless patients at Elmhurst Hospital who have nothing more than a hospital gown.”

McDonald and the volunteers also take great pride knowing the store’s proceeds funded hospital programs and needed equipment.

Reflecting on the volunteers and customers at the Pink Elephant, McDonald stated, “We formed personal connections and cared about each other. We became family.”

These sentiments are echoed by its customers.

“The Pink Elephant is a social outlet for many in the community – a place to meet friends, enjoy conversations, and find good deals,” stated Elmhurst resident George Slaidas, a Pink Elephant customer for 25 years. “Some people came in every day, some once a week, and others periodically. Patrick always accommodated people and treated them with respect and class. He made it a nice part of our day. It will be big loss for the Elmhurst community.”

As McDonald gazed at the few items remaining in the store, he stated, “I will always be grateful to Elmhurst Hospital for the opportunity to make my vision for the Pink Elephant a reality. Knowing the store benefitted the community in so many ways will give me a lifetime of satisfaction and I will always miss my Pink Elephant family!”

 

 

 

 

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