Living the Mission

Community Resource Bolstered with Assistance from Niagara University

What was once a place where children came to learn is now a space filled with gently used clothing, furniture and household items. It’s a homecoming of sorts, as the St. Vincent de Paul Store is back on Tronolone Place in Niagara Falls, where it was first established some 60 years ago. Now located in the auditorium of the former St. Joseph’s School building, the store is once again serving the poor and working poor in the Niagara Falls area.

Since its establishment in 1950, the store has occupied several locations throughout the city,including Main Street, where it was in operation for more than 15 years under the direction of Brother Stephen Kennedy, C.M.* In 1992, it moved to the former Our Lady of Rosary School on Niagara Street, where it remained until that building was sold as part of the Diocese of Buffalo’s Journey in Faith and Grace parish revitalization and reorganization program. Organizers began searching for a new site, ultimately choosing the former school building, which is now part of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph Parish. Niagara University staff and students were especially instrumental in cleaning the store, removing debris, making needed repairs and soliciting donations of new and usable merchandise.

“Working with the St. Vincent de Paul Society is something that Niagara University takes great pride in and it correlates directly with our mission as a Catholic and Vincentian institution,” says the Rev. Joseph L. Levesque, C.M., the university’s president. “NU was involved in getting the store back up and running when it was on the brink of closure several years ago and we are committed to seeing through the sustainability of this valuable community resource.”

Today, the store is bustling with activity during its operational hours. Volunteers from Niagara University and several church groups sort donations in the back room (which was once a kitchen) and stock and organize the shelves along the walls as customers search through thousands of donated items. The work is supervised by student managers from Niagara University, an internship opportunity developed by Mike Skowronski, corporate relations developer in NU’s Office of Career Services, this summer. Mike Rockwood was the first of the student managers.

“It (the store) was handed to me and it was ‘do whatever you want with it,’ basically,” Rockwood says. “Improve business, make it into whatever you can make it into. I’m a third-year business student. It seemed like a good fit, so I jumped at the opportunity.”

Rockwood got right to work, organizing the retail space, developing policies for accepting donations,purchasing promotional ads, and handling the day-to-day operation of the store. Due to his efforts, the store has quadrupled its sales.

“It takes time to get the word out that we’re here,reopened, up and running,” Rockwood says. “It takes time to build the customer base. But there’s a very notable improvement, there’s progress, and that’s good to see. That means more money for the store, more opportunity, a better outlook.”

“Mike did a wonderful job,” says Skowronski. “He had an excellent vision and helped merchandise things appropriately. It was refreshing to have that youthful presence there, and certainly he came at the right time for the store because it was reestablishing itself.”

In the coming months, a new student manager will take over where Rockwood left off. It’s one of the goals of the “new” St. Vincent de Paul Store. And in the meantime, student volunteers from the university’s Learn and Serve program and those involved with Campus Ministry will continue to help, both with running the store and fundraising for a much-needed new truck. “We drfinitely want to keep a close Niagara connection,” says Skowronski.

Read about the store's blessing ceremony here.

* We are sad to report that Brother Steve passed away on Sept. 27, shortly after this article was written. See more here.