About this series: This story is part of an ongoing project by the Union-Bulletin to shine a spotlight on businesses along Isaacs Avenue while the road is being rebuilt from Division Street to Wilbur Avenue over the next two years. Pick up next Monday’s U-B for the second installment.
You never know what treasure awaits at thrift and gift store Yeehaw Aloha.
Rooted in the concept of an eternal yard sale, the Eastgate store at 1439 Isaacs Ave. is so chock full of housewares, books, music, movies, clothing, toys, small appliances, jewelry, furnishings, hardware and more that the inventory spills out of the nearly 4,000 square feet of space into a roadside exterior display.
“We certainly could fill any amount of space we were given,” said the operation’s Executive Director Laurel DeLong.
Among one of the more unusual donations recently was more than 300 sets of salt and pepper shakers from a collection. Other atypical items that have come as people have shed their possessions via estate donations, moves and major purgings, have been 100-year-old books, gold teeth, an air pump for airplane tires, pedicure chairs, a working BMW, 1,000 pieces of men’s J.Crew clothing, and a Chihuly glass bowl.
Over the last month or so, contributions to the store and its broader mission — more on that in a moment — have included a colony of garden gnomes and an enviable 1980s-era wardrobe with acid-washed jeans, stirrup pants, cardigans adorned with unicorns, crop tops and colorful print shorts.
An assortment of storage boxes was marketed, along with at least eight different bins of cords through social media posts that serve as a vessel for communicating new items to customers.
The sale of these prizes has a much greater purpose than traditional retail. Sales also serve as a way to raise funds “to improve opportunities for Walla Walla’s youth, and fund gifts to a diverse group of local charities, daily,” a description of the store explains.
Last year, $36,000 was raised for community youth. DeLong, who founded the store with her husband Gabriel six years ago, said the goal is $50,000 annually, or about 30 percent, for youth.
The concept started with their passion for the lasting impact of the Young Life program, to which Gabriel was connected during his own high school years.
The program connects young people with adult mentors through games, activities and ministry. The Young Life gatherings grew to include summer camps, trips to see the ocean and more.
As demand grew for the program, so did funding needs. Thus the store came to life as a permanent resource for this and other charitable organizations.
The operation was granted 501c3 nonprofit status in 2018. It’s operated by a board of directors: President Gabriel DeLong, Vice President Andrew Eaton, Secretary Kristen Sayers, and Chaplain Christopher Krueger, with Laurel DeLong as the hired executive director.
The next big vision is a home for Yeehaw Aloha Youth Adventures. A breakroom in the upstairs space of the building is under renovation as a future youth center with a goal to open by year’s end.
Thus the sale of merchandise — 75 percent of which is priced less than $10 — continues to be packed into the store with a need for high volume turnover.
“I think a lot of people have been assuming we’re operating under another umbrella,” DeLong said. “Some thrift stores have a church sponsor. People ask what church we go to — obviously they want to know where the money goes. A lot of times they assume it’s run by a church.”
The store doesn’t just help fund youth activities. It also provides a space for work training and volunteerism, providing essential life skills. Even a number of adults exchange volunteering at the store for credit that help them make clothing purchases.
DeLong has been a force of creativity when it comes to strategies to combat the Isaacs Avenue construction that has shut down the road in front of the store.
She has plans for a parking lot sale, along with new store hours Sundays, night vigils, scavenger hunts, block parties and more. “New traditions,” she calls them.
There’s a bit of comfort, too, in knowing that people will make the trip for items of need and want that serve a greater cause.
Some time ago, for instance, a customer made the trek from San Francisco to the store when it landed a mid-1800s Grover & Baker sewing machine.
If someone can drive from California for an item, they can certainly navigate a construction zone.
“I’m just believing we can rally and have a healthier Eastgate result,” DeLong said.