Christa Pence wanted out of the retail business. She was tired of the long department store hours.
Her break came about 11 years ago when Pence went in search of a consignment shop where she could sell her clothes.
Eventually, she made her way to Rave Reviews, a boutique in Columbia. Although at first she didn't consign her clothes at the shop; she gave the woman running the store some advice.
"I gave her some pointers that I thought would help her sell more clothes," said Pence. "She told me I could have her job because she was leaving."
Although Pence, of Ellicott City, initially turned down the job, she later accepted the position and became manager of the shop. Since then, the shop has been voted best consignment shop in the county for the past seven years. It has a mailing list of more than 1,200 people and has raised about $25,000 a year for Howard County General Hospital Volunteer Auxiliary, Pence said.
"We are truly a consignment shop," Pence said. "We are not a thrift store. There is a distinct difference."
In a thrift shop, merchandise is donated and the proceeds go to the shop or a charity. When items placed on consignment are sold, the money is split between the consignment shop and the people offering the items for sale.
Originally, Rave Reviews donated proceeds to benefit the neonatal unit, said Pence.
"Over the years, the needs of that unit were met, and we started donating the money to whatever the hospital needs to use it for," Pence said.
The shop carries a variety of items, including an array of silk scarves, designer pantsuits, dresses, skirts, formal attire, coats, costume jewelry and jackets.
"We aren't your typical consignment shop," said Pauline Lotkin, a volunteer in the shop.
"We are very picky about what we buy. When consignments come in, we only take what we think has retail value in our shop."
The quality of the merchandise is so high that some customers don't realize it's a consignment shop, said Lotkin, of Clarksville.
"People will come in here and ask me if we have their size in a particular item," she said. "We just stare at them." Items are priced by the employees, Lotkin said.
"We try to price the clothing so it will sell," she said. For example a two-piece Kasper pantsuit is listed at $78. Lotkin attributes the shop's success to high-quality merchandise and the camaraderie among the employees and the customers, she said.
"We call this place Rave Reviews Rehabilitation Center," said Pence. "Customers come in here to get clothes and to talk to someone when something is wrong. We have laughed together and cried together."
With customers ranging in age from about 45 to 79, the shop caters to career women, said Pence.
"A lot of our customers are executives and staff from area schools," said Pence. "And the volunteers consign here as well. I consign here and buy here."
Lotkin began consigning at the shop in 1998. "I came to the shop to sell my clothes," said Lotkin. "Before I left the first time, I had spent all my money."
After almost a decade of working in the shop, Lotkin still enjoys matching customers with clothing.
"I find it challenging to help people with limited incomes, that want to look their best at every stage of life, find clothes," said Lotkin. "And where else can you go and find a seasonal designer wardrobe for $300 to $400."
Lynne Forgham started volunteering at the shop about a decade ago. She worked for a year and then left the area. When she had the opportunity to move back into the area, she returned to the shop.
"I loved working here the first time," said Forgham, 59. "I returned because it was an opportunity for me to give back to the community and be able to do something to help the hospital. People come in here, and they get so excited when they find something. It makes me feel good to be able to help people."
Rave Reviews is at 6470 Freetown Road in West Columbia. It is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday from noon to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 410-531-6946