Buy Again Alley, a small thrift store in downtown Middlebury, has a rich history of community outreach with local middle schools, high schools and the college. Much of the nonprofit store's charm and heart comes from its executive director and founder, Jutta Miska, who moved to Middlebury 38 years ago from Germany.
When she moved into town, Miska wanted to familiarize herself with her new home and contribute to the community. Previously a social worker in Germany, she became involved in several youth groups in Middlebury, working mainly with those who didn’t have much home support. Miska eventually co-founded a teen center, now known as Addison Central Teens.
Becoming co-director of the teen center allowed Miska to interact with the many college students who participated in work-study or volunteered there. When the idea for a clothing swap was mentioned to the students and elicited a positive response from them, Miska decided to move forward and organize the event that would lay the basis for her future thrift store.
She contacted the local high school and 39 participants attended the inaugural swap. That number would grow to around 250 in four or five years. Miska also coordinated clothing swaps with the middle school, and the events kept growing. During this time, a teen suggested Miska start a clothing store in Middlebury that specifically aimed at clothing for teens.
“My mom ran a small textile store in the village I grew up in, and my older sister and I had to help,” Miska said. “I always said, ‘I will never ever own a clothing store.’ Well, wherever my mother and sister are now, they are laughing.”
After taking a few months off from the teen center and studying bookkeeping, Miska opened her store.
Today, Buy Again Alley consigns with people ages 25 and under to encourage youth recycling. Clothes can be consigned for store credit, but Miska hopes to be able to consign for cash again once business picks up post-pandemic.
Buy Again Alley is more than a typical thrift store — its mission statement includes commitments to fostering recycling awareness, breaking down socio-economic barriers and serving a diverse clientele through its services. All of the store’s proceeds go toward supporting young adults in Addison County who are seeking an education in the trades field through scholarships and leadership opportunities.
“I feel recycling is very important in our world because our consumption is much too large. Also, I wanted to focus on younger people because of my background, as well as the fact that there were already three stores in town for older customers,” Miska said.
Soon after Miska set up her business, she communicated with the commons coordinators at the college to encourage students to consign or simply donate clothes if that was an affordable option for them.
Middlebury students typically donate huge amounts of clothing at the end of each school year, and Buy Again Alley now has around 230 consigners. The store also collaborates with nonprofits. When someone donates clothes to the store, they can ask for half of the profits to go toward a specific organization.
One student, Adrienne Coslick ’21, has modeled for the store in the past. She met Miska through her friend, an international student at Middlebury whom Miska hosted. After Coslick had visited a few times and stayed to chat, Miska approached her about being a model. Coslick posed for pictures taken for the store’s Instagram and Facebook profiles.
“She’s so nice. I think she’s really invested in the Middlebury Community, and it’s really inspiring and heartwarming to see that,” Coslick said.
Anita Borlak ’23.5 started work-study with Miska after visiting the store and finding it to be a fun space. Initially working around 15 hours a week, Borlak and the few others who worked in the store — another work-study student, as well as two of Miska’s close friends — began talking and getting to know each other.
“She’s overwhelmingly warm and really willing to open up and get to know you. She was a great introduction to the community,” Borlak said.
Miska also hosts international students at Middlebury. These students don’t live with her, but Miska and her husband help them connect to the local area and act as a nearby support.
“It was always part of what I wanted to do because I wanted to introduce my kids to different cultures and countries and diversity. We’ve built great relationships over the four years. You meet so many different people; it’s very exciting,” Miska said.
Midd students can connect with Buy Again Alley through Instagram and Facebook at @buyagainalley. Miska emphasized that she is always looking for students interested in helping out at the store with technology, fashion displays, sewing and a variety of other activities. Students interested in volunteering should talk to her directly, while those interested in work-study must contact the college.
Julia Pepper ’24 is a local editor for The Campus. She previously served as a staff writer, and wrote about local businesses and events in Addison county.
She is undeclared, but plans to study Psychology and Political Science, as well as minor in French.
In her free time, Julia enjoys seeing friends, reading, baking, and biking.