“THE BIGGEST BARGAIN IN MARIN IS GOING TO THE DOGS (and the cats, too)”

This is one of the clever ways the Marin Humane Auxiliary promoted shopping at the Marin Humane Thrift Shop on San Anselmo Ave. Pretty attention-getting, right? It was also very effective because after 61 years, the shop is still going strong!

The shop is a regular stop for many bargain hunters, especially in this time of “recycle and resell.” But how many people know the history of the Thrift Shop and the Marin Humane Auxiliary? Let’s take a walk back in time, to a different era in Marin history.

In 1940, inspired by the work of Ethel Tompkins, founder of the Marin Humane Society in 1907, and her work to encourage more humane treatment of animals, Levant Brown of Ross started the Marin Humane Society Auxiliary. Their work was dedicated to raising money to support the animals. Fundraising was done through bridge and tea parties. It was considered “tres chic” to be a member of the Auxiliary.

The parties were held at the Katherine Branson School. Their parties were a highlight on many peoples’ calendars. Meetings for the Auxiliary were held at Ethel Tompkins’ home. Although Ethel was rarely present at the meetings, she always set out cake and sherry for the members to enjoy. It was a sincere expression of thanks for the work of the Auxiliary.

By 1948, there were four branches of the Auxiliary – all in southern and central Marin. Individually, each group of women was very active, with the same goal in mind – to support the animals. Gradually, their fundraisers grew in size and popularity. In 1952, they sponsored a horse show at the Smith Ranch, and in 1954 they sponsored a huge barbeque at the Raisch Ranch in Sleepy Hollow.

By far, their biggest fundraiser was held in 1957 on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Marin Humane Society. More than 1,000 guests attended the event which was held at the Kent Estate. The Auxiliary members delighted the guests by wearing modern and “turn of the century” costumes. They were accompanied by dogs whose breeds were popular at that time. Lots of poodles, a variety of terriers, a Dalmatian, and an Afghan were a few of the canine guests.

Smaller fundraising events such as champagne and tea parties were sponsored and regularly held by the Auxiliary members. These events were well-publicized by the Marin IJ and other local papers. Not only were the events fun for attendees but there was meaning and purpose to their fundraising efforts.

Much of the money raised by the Auxiliary in those early years went toward the construction of a new animal shelter and offices at 3rd and Mary streets in San Rafael. That shelter was opened in 1952 at the cost of $40,000.

In the early 60’s, Auxiliary members began actively publicizing their events and meetings with regular press releases in the papers. New members were always welcome! By 1961, members launched what would become the focus of their fundraising efforts – a Thrift Shop! The first thrift shop opened in 1961 at 328 San Anselmo Avenue.

In 1963, the Marin Humane Society acquired the site for a new shelter to be built in Novato. The new shelter would have an Education Center and a Spay and Neuter clinic. The clinic would become the focus of the Auxiliary’s fundraising efforts for years to come.

On February 23, 1965, the Thrift Shop moved up the street to 360 San Anselmo Avenue where it has remained for the past 57 years. Many of the women in the Auxiliary became volunteers in the Thrift Shop. They were, and continue to be, a dedicated group of women, ready to roll up their sleeves and work hard to sort through donations, price and display goods to sell, and have become a beloved and thriving part of the Marin community.

The Auxiliary is credited for  helping to drastically increase the numbers of spayed and neutered dogs and cats, thus significantly reducing the over-population problem in Marin County. Here are some of the numbers:

  • They raised $42,000 to help build the new shelter
  • The first three years the Spay and Neuter clinic was open, 13,597 surgeries were performed on dogs and cats
  • By 1977, the numbers of dogs and cats that were euthanized reduced from 14,000 in 1972 to 6,000 in 1977

Fast forward to 1998, and the four branches of the Auxiliary consolidated. Despite the fact that new members were always needed, they were able to contribute on average $30,000 to the clinic. In 2001, they celebrated their 40th anniversary of the Thrift Shop at their current location. With competition from other thrift shops that opened in the area, they stayed afloat when others eventually closed.

In 2005, torrential rains caused massive flooding along San Anselmo Avenue. Mud and water poured into the Thrift Shop rooms. By the time the water receded and staff could get into the shop, several volunteers were already beginning the cleanup process. The shop was a mess – mud and water covered the floor and left residue several inches thick. Nothing could deter the volunteers from saving the items in the shop and opening for business as soon as possible!

Throughout the years, the volunteers have contributed their artistic talents in a variety of ways to the success of the shop. Volunteers have made beautiful jewelry to sell in the shop, one volunteer’s special talent is making small succulent gardens in a variety of containers, one volunteer makes greeting cards out of a variety of “tossed off” items. These cards are a HUGE hit and sell like hotcakes. Another volunteer boasts how her wardrobe items all came from donations to the shop – yes, she always pays for them, too!

Volunteer Donna Morrison, not only makes and donates the hand-made greeting cards, she also has an incredible talent for making eye-catching displays in the front window. The displays changed monthly and are always themed to highlight some of the most unique donations. The window displays draw countless shoppers inside to view items more closely – handmade baby blocks, antique jewelry, donated collections of hats or antique toys…the list goes on and on. Donna has retired from the shop but the volunteers have taken up the reins and continue to create beautiful front window displays.

In December of 2009, their contributions were tallied and came to a record-breaking $90,000 for the Spay and Neuter clinic! In addition to continuing to help fund spay and neuter surgeries, their contributions were used to purchase specialized equipment needed to help with animal rehabilitations.

Two decades later, the Thrift Shop has continued to thrive. Even during the 2020 pandemic shutdown, the leaders of the shop were planning what they would do to bring back sales when they were allowed to minimally open to the public. One of their biggest successes was their decision to take credit cards. Up to March, 2020, they were “cash only.” Once word got around the shop was taking credit cards, and they could gradually reopen for business, their sales soared. In fact, the Thrift Shop had its highest sales month in December of 2021 – exceeding $10,000!

Although the Thrift Shop has often been referred to as the “hidden gem” on San Anselmo Avenue, its small space belies the incredible success and longevity it has had in the community. Marin Humane has a long history and much of it is due to the continued and unshakeable commitment of the Marin Humane Auxiliary Thrift Shop volunteers.

We salute you on your 61st anniversary of the Thrift Shop and 82 years of the Marin Humane Auxiliary.