Step into the Senior Craftsmen Center one last time: the antique Chippendale chairs in the back room are on the block, and the handmade afghans out front have been marked down by 90 percent. There are hundreds of items: woven dolls, Christmas tree ornaments, useless bric-a-brac and useful gadgets. Everything is priced to move.
The craftsmen's center, a 12-year-old nonprofit consignment shop on Connecticut Avenue NW that has kept hundreds of elderly District persons in pin money, is closing its doors after this week. Dorayne Lyons, the shop's 63-year-old director, is moving on to other interests; the center's building just north of Calvert Street NW--a decrepit town house that also houses a palmreader's office--is no longer habitable.
So, with a clearance sale this Saturday that should rid the center of its last creweled placemat and crocheted baby bootie, one of the nation's first consignment shops employing only elderly artisans will be out of business.
"In the beginning, most of us were interested in working with senior citizens, in helping them however we could," said Lyons, a lively woman who has spent most of her life in the District.
"In the end, though, most of us just got consumed by it. I know I did."
Some of the shop's more optimistic volunteers want to reincarnate the craft center further uptown, but it could be months before that happens, Lyons said. She has discussed the prospect of reopening the shop with YWCA officials and a couple of local businessmen, but reached no agreement with them.
None of the eight District-run senior citizen centers and five day-care centers for the elderly, where many of the goods that supplied the shop were made, has enough money or space to reopen the center, Lyons said.
Modeled on a similar program in Florida that helped seniors stay active with craft programs, the District's consignment shop was annually funded by a $28,000 grant for the D.C. Office on Aging; the money helped defray the center's modest rent and Lyons' $18,000 yearly salary.
This year, with Lyons' departure and the shop in disrepair, the craft center did not even apply for the grant, according to Lyons and Lillian Jones, a program analyst for the aging office.
Another factor in the decision to close was a steady decline in the number of consignors over the past few years, officials said. For handcrafted goods, a consignor would be paid about $6.50 for every $10 his work brought in, and while some artisans made a handsome profit from that arrangement, the typical consignor's earnings had dropped to about $5 annually, Lyons and Jones said.
Nancy Crawford, a 73-year-old quilter who is active at the Barney Senior Center on Columbia Road NW, left a quilt and afghan at the craft center last summer. When the items did not sell, she reclaimed them. "That senior center is where I do most of my work," said Crawfod, who leads craft classes at Barney, "but Mrs. Lyons' place was a good thing for us to have."
Over the years, the center has had more than 700 consignors, with a core of nearly 500. "Most of them made very little money," said Lyons, "but that was never the idea behind the center. We let people do their own thing."
They did. Most of the handmade goods were for babies and small children--fuzzy handmade toys were always popular--but the shop also sold colorful afghans, vests, crocheted skirts and stained glass window ornaments. Between the room of knitted items and the "white elephant" room in the rear, a patron could spend 10 cents or $150--knowing that most of it would go to an elderly person. The center had but one rule: items sold had to be made or owned by a person at least 60 years old.
Doctors were always good customers, as were the conventioneers who stayed at the three hotels within walking distance of the shop, Lyons said. Once, a trio of drunken Princeton University students wandered in, and Lyons was able to unload an ugly handpainted tie that had gone unsold for years. It was an easy sale, she said, because the tie carried an orange tiger--their school's emblem.
"Let's face it: Not all of our stuff is for everybody," said Lyons. "But those who love it can spend hours in here. We are in a class by ourselves."
Lyons has mailed to her crafts people lists of area consignment stores that may be interested in their goods. She said local bazaars and fairs will continue to be outlets for the artisans among the estimated 100,000 elderly residents in the District.
"What was good about the . . . center," said Jones, "was that it provided employment to our senior citizens--even on a limited basis. Unfortunately, in later years, it proved to be not very cost-effective.