The Underground Clothing Connection at Sunrise Mall

Citrus Heights, CA (MPG)  |  By Elise Spleiss
  Share this pic with friends!

Sunrise Mall offered the former REI 21 space for the new venture. Photo by Elise Spleiss

  Share this pic with friends!

Volunteer scheduler, and SJHS alumni, Kaylon McBride and HART board member Stan Muñoz work to make The Underground Clothing Connection a great place for students to shop. Photo by Gerry Stolz

Teens Venture into Style and Fashion, while Learning about Customer Service and Merchandising

CITRUS HEIGHTS, CA (MPG) – The difference between failure and success can be found in just the right clothing, especially when you are a teenager. Enter, The Underground Clothing Connection.

The Underground, a one-of-a-kind store at the Sunrise Mall in Citrus Heights recently opened for qualified high school students to shop free of charge for all their clothing and accessory needs.

A community partnership between the Citrus Heights Homeless Assistance Resource Team (HART), Sunrise Mall, San Juan Unified School District (SJUSD) and Sunrise MarketPlace (SMP) has made this history making project possible.

Many high school students in the SJUSD, while living in secure housing of some kind, are facing hard times with their families in other ways. After filling their basic needs, parents or guardians are often left with little if any funds for adequate, if not stylish clothing and other accessories for their teens.

The school district attempted to fill this need with a clothing closet at a satellite location. When it was noticed that students were not going there, HART board members Stan Munoz and Kaylon McBride, formed a small panel of Mesa Verde High School students to find out why.

The students asked Munoz if he would have gone into a store where, when he came out, he would have been teased about getting his clothes from that “poor kids’ store.”  Acknowledging the dilemma, Munoz asked them “how can we change this and give these students a sense of pride?” The answer, find a location away from their school where all students would be proud to go.

The stars lined up for the project as Munoz presented the issue to HART Chair and Executive Director of the Sunrise Marketplace Kathilynn Carpenter.  Carpenter met with Sunrise Mall general manager Natalie Worstein, who was happy to be part of this community partnership. With 30 percent of the mall vacant, Worstein offered the former REI 21 space for the new venture at no charge.

Munoz, with 40 years as manager at J.C. Penny’s enlisted Casa Roble student volunteers to create this only store of its kind in the country. Asking them how they want the store to look, he sent them into Macy’s and J.C. Penny’s for ideas. “We want it to be the best-looking store in the mall. We don’t want it to feel or look like a thrift store. We want it to feel like you’re just shopping.”  They have succeeded.

The name, The Underground, was also chosen by the students. These volunteers set up the store, and are continuing to take care of it under Munoz’s guidance. There are no tables, all clothing is hung and well-marked. Volunteers help the customers find what they are looking for. The most sought-after items: torn jeans, leggings and hoodies.

Clothing and other donations are plentiful. The clothing on the clothing trailer was brought to the store. Mall shoppers, teens and adults alike, mistaking the Underground for a regular store, would leave and return with their own donations; Word of mouth and social media is spreading the word.  Private mother’s online groups help each other, all taking on a life of its own.

As in the major stores, each section of clothing and accessories is a separate shop. Girls and boys separated by age. Juniors, young men, shoes, a boot bar and, handbags. Shoppers are given a shopping list with up to 25 items they can take home. Mothers who come in with their students and younger children are often pregnant. They now have maternity, small children and infants clothing.

This experience is bringing out the best in both the student customers and volunteers. With their integrity restored some customers say they want to volunteer to work. While many are earning their community service hours from school, they say they would work even without getting credit.

These jobs look good on a resume. Students are learning about customer service, merchandising, displays and cleaning. They have spent endless hours sorting bags and bags of clothes. Some are finding they have a good eye for what’s in style.

Shopping is by appointment only, two days a week.  Customers are referred by a school principal, counselor or school liaison. Kaylon McBride, SJHS alumni, is the customer and volunteer scheduler working with the schools.

On a feedback form, one shopper commented, “Very welcoming, loving people; When I feel that kind of spirit, I don’t feel like I’m being judged.”

More volunteers are needed in order to expand their hours of operation.

For information, email: citrusheightshart@gmail.com