By Robert Guttersohn
The customers entering Nona’s Family Closet come from every spectrum: doctors, attorneys, churchgoers and those in need.
“People from all walks of life come through that door,” Nona Sorokach, the owner of the 7-year-old consignment shop, said while pointing toward her business’s front door. “They have a blast.”
Sorakach said she fell into the consignment business more than 30 years ago while first volunteering at Liberty High School’s Nearly New shop. Since then, consignment — a method of selling items from a shop while allowing its owners to retain ownership until the items sell and then splits the profit with the retailer — has become a passion and a career. So much so that at the beginning of the year, she was forced to expand her business, doubling the size of the clothing and jewelry store.
At one time she shared the gray single-story, outpost-looking building with the takeout restaurant Hungry Chucks. But when it closed, she bought its space, knocked down a portion of the wall separating the two places and painted the vacant room a pastel green and purple.
“We wanted something to pop,” Sorokach said of the color.
With that, Nona’s Family Closet opened its kids section, giving parents trying to keep up with the clothes their children are constantly outgrowing a cost-effective option.
With five children of her own, Sorokach, now 66, is speaking from personal experience.
While her husband, Robert, retired from his post as an industrial engineer professor at Youngstown State University, she was actively volunteering at Liberty schools. She ran the Nearly New shop at the school for the last 10 years of its 40-year existence. After the shop was closed to make room for classrooms, she worked at another consignment shop in the Valley for 11 years. There she gained the experience and understanding of the business needed to run a place of her own.
“I treat people exactly the way I wanted to be treated,” she said, standing in one of the narrow aisles created by clothes racks.
She has operated her shop at 1580 E. Liberty St. under that philosophy.
As Lori Drawl, one of six volunteers at the shop, can testify, it’s what keeps the wide range of customers returning.
“Half the reason people come here is to see Nona,” she said, while inventorying a basket’s worth of clothes a customer just dropped off — all folded or on hangers just as the Family Closet requires.
Nona promptly offered coffee and cookies to the customer, and though that one declined saying she was in a hurry, many do stay, eat and talk. And Sorokach listens, giving the consignment shop a salon feel.
Her dog, Bailey, a West Highland White Terrier who sits in his bed behind the front counter, looks curiously at new customers.
“He usually just sleeps,” she said. Customers “don’t even know he’s alive. They think he’s a mannequin.”
Sorokach is assisted by several volunteers, Drawl, Dolly Green, Jan Economides, Rose Mills, Audrey Fairmen and Quesha Stredrick, who come to the store in their free time to be part of the environment.
Sorokach relishes the stories she hears from the patrons.
“I wish I could write a book,” she said.
Some of the stories bring a smile to her face while others bring tears, particularly around Christmas time. She said customers will come in eyeing clothing they’ll want to give to their children but won’t have enough money.
“You can’t help but donate,” she said.
Drawl said sometimes churches or missions will call Family Closet telling them a family needs help.
And Sorokach will say, “Give me their sizes, we’ll clothe them,” Drawl said.
Regardless, clothing that has been in the store for more than 90 days is given to charity, also allowing the person who brought in the items to write them off as a charitable donation.
“It’s really a win-win,” Sorokach said.
Beyond the social vibe to the place, customers also come for the variety of clothes. Since expanding the place, the shop is split into main parts. The western side belongs mostly to kids’ clothing. The eastern side is a collage of evening gowns, cocktail dresses, men’s slacks and shirts and more.
Church hats adorn the shop, too. Some of the hats come from a designer in New York City directly to the Family Closet for consignment, where Sorokach splits the sale 60-40.
But in the far back on the eastern side of the shop is the “Blingware” section, Sorokach calls it.
In a room painted a romantic red are the formal dresses. There are pastel-colored prom dresses, coordinated bridesmaid dresses and even wedding gowns.
And like the customers who walk into Nona’s Family Closet, sometimes the clothes have their own story.
“This one was never worn,” she said, holding up one of the bleach-white wedding dresses.