The Doors of Opportunity are Just Down the Road

The doors of The Opportunity Shop (127 W. Canon Perdido) have opened windows of opportunity to budget-minded furniture buyers since 1929. While many locals are familiar with the store’s high-end used furniture, they may not be aware that the nonprofit Work Training Programs took over the shop in 2001 to expand its ability to train people in viable skills such as furniture re-upholstery, merchandising, refinishing and janitorial services.

Offering a wide selection of furniture for every room in the house, there often are some real treasures to be found at The Opportunity Shop. Buyer and Store Manager Mike Blaha said he tries to feature a variety of items. A recent visit to the showroom revealed a pleasingly eclectic mix, including a straight-out-of-High-Noon post office counter (which sold while I was there), an old Mexican door converted into a table, a roll top desk, a wood type-setting file cabinet and an abstract handmade Japanese rug, along with less exotic couches, dining room sets, chairs, bookcases, end tables and office furniture.

Blaha prescreens all of the items, which are a mixture of purchases, tax-deductible donations and consignments. “I go there, bid on it, clean it up, put it on the floor and clean it up when it’s sold,” he said. “We try to shoot for at least 10% donations and we’ve just recently started doing consignment. I’d say some of the larger, higher end things are consignment … it’s not worth the paperwork to do it for small items.”

Interior designers frequent the Opportunity Shop, said Matt Armor, a former Work Training Programs job coach and group home staffer who now oversees the store. “There are people coming in here all the time who’ve been walking in here since the 70s and 80s and they still come in just to do it. It’s part of their thing,” said Armor.

“There’s a guy who comes in looking for teak all the time,” said Blaha. Other collectors keep an eye out for Southwestern blankets, old oak pieces and 50s modern retro kitchen stuff. “Anything that’s excellent and cheap sells. Dressers sell really well but I’d say bookcases are always the number one thing,” he said.

The Opportunity Shop offers something for almost everybody and they get new items in daily. For more information call 962.7233.

About Work Training Programs

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Work Training Programs, which was established in Santa Barbara in 1964 to provide independent living and employment support services that enable individuals with disabilities or disadvantages to live and work as productive members of their community.

“It’s always been in my interest to have some self supporting aspects of Work Training Programs, things that we can rely on the community to support perhaps but to get out from under reliance on government support,” said CEO Cynthia Burton. “The idea of having a business that would provide work experience for our participants plus being kind of a self supporting entity” was what made The Opportunity Shop such an attractive venture to her. “It just seemed like a good fit for us … (with a) variety of skill building experiences that our participants could enjoy.”

Client Lori DeBoer is one such participant. She works three days a week at The Opportunity Shop, helping to clean the shop and refurbish furniture. “Mike (Blaha) is great to work for. He’s good. I like him,” said DeBoer, who is developmentally disabled. She checks in with her job developer on a regular basis and will let her know when she is ready to learn something else or move on to a full time position.

The job developers find jobs based on what people are interested in, said Burton. About 40 different local employers now work with the program, including Santa Barbara Bank & Trust, Sansum Clinic, KEYT and Home Depot, in addition to The Opportunity Shop.

Headquartered at 315 W. Haley St., each year Work Training Programs serves 1,800 clients from Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Ventura and Los Angeles Counties.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on April 8, 2004.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.