When Florence Ruel looks around Treasures From the Heart thrift store in Sevierville, she sees an operation largely of her making.
While Smoky Mountain Area Rescue Ministries made the decision to create the store and chose the location, it was Ruel who was hired to get it open. She arranged the interior, decided where items would be placed and helped recruit the staff and volunteers who keep it going.
It’s been quite a ride in the 10 years since the thrift store opened, but it’s a ride coming to a close. Ruel, 76, is retiring at the end of May, and she is walking away from it for a simple reason.
“It’s time,” she said. “I kind of hate leaving it. I enjoy the work and I like the people. But age catches up to you.”
That SMARM Executive Director Dick Wellons and SMARM board members chose Ruel to open the store is not a surprise. She spent 22 years opening Goodwill stores in the Orlando area before retiring and moving to Sevier County in 2004 to be near her daughter’s family. It was a year after her husband died following a long illness.
She was working part-time at a retail store in Tanger Five Oaks, but was not looking for another full-time job.
She and some fellow Smoky Mountain Christian Church members volunteered one day in 2007 to help at what was then SMARM’s clothes closet on the second floor of the agency’s offices on Forks of the River Parkway.
Wellons found out about her background in thrift stores and asked if she might consider opening and running a thrift store SMARM was planning.
“When Dick asked me, I realized this was a charity, so I agreed to do it. How could I say no? I thought I’d do it a couple of years.”
Her experience opening Goodwill stores in Florida came in handy. SMARM signed a lease on an abandoned furniture store up the street. Ruel, on her days off from the part-time job at Tanger, organized the store’s setup, and in three months Treasures From the Heart opened in July 2007.
Those two years of commitment stretched to a decade. Along the way she hired staff, trained volunteers, opened a second store in Seymour and convinced the board to install a freight elevator to move merchandise to and from the second floor.
“Flo has been a fixture in the store for 10 years,” Wellons said. “When we decided to open the store we needed a manager and hired her immediately. We knew right away it was a good choice.”
Revenue from the two thrift stores along with store donations, fundraisers, and individual, business and church contributions provides the funds to serve our clients. Donations and fundraisers serve the needs of clients. The success of the thrift stores is essential to allowing SMARM to do what it does.
“I allowed her a free hand to decide on equipment and fixtures and what needed to be done to make the stores successful,” Wellons said.
Ruel also has been dependable. She could recall only a handful of times in those 10 years when she had to call in sick.
Her last day is Friday, May 26. A reception in her honor will be held starting at 5 p.m. in the store on Tuesday, May 23.
Lizz Whitmire has been hired as the new store manager and is already on the job getting trained by Ruel.
What will Ruel do starting May 26?
“I’ll probably come in and shop. I also may volunteer, maybe in the Seymour store, and I’ll find other places to volunteer. I also may come in the work if people are out for vacation,” she said.
Treasures From the Heart Thrift Store operates two locations, 230 Court Avenue in downtown Sevierville and 10537
Chapman Highway in Seymour.