For more than two decades, Ardy Bazarian has been the heart and soul of the American Cancer Society Discovery Shop in downtown Los Altos.
The diminutive manager with the big smile and gracious personality has made the store one of the top-grossing of all Discovery Shops in the region, despite being one of the smallest. Bazarian figures that the store has made more than $7 million during her tenure.
So when she retired Thursday, it proved difficult – she was leaving behind numerous volunteers, donors and customers with whom she had forged lasting relationships.
At the same time, she’s proud of her accomplishments and touched by the outpouring of support as word of her retirement spread.
“There comes a time when you need to take a different path because there’s so much out there to explore,” she said last week.
Bazarian has traveled a long road since first taking the reins at the Discovery Shop 22 years ago. She had plenty of advertising and marketing experience but none in retail.
“When I started as a manager, I didn’t know anything about the retail business,” she said. “I was ready to quit after the first week.”
However, Bazarian’s background as a volunteer – she was active in the PTA and the Junior League – helped with her transition. So did the store’s volunteers.
“I had the support of the volunteers from the very first day I walked into the store,” she said. “I just knew I would have the help I needed. And it’s come to pass.”
But, as with other challenges in her life, Bazarian figured it out. Her marketing creativity enhanced the store’s profile as she arranged special sales events and exhibited a magic touch with window displays.
She elevated her store from a thrift shop to a classy retail outlet that sold second-hand but high-quality merchandise.
“I wanted the store to look upscale, (and create) the feeling that they were not walking into a thrift shop,” Bazarian said of shoppers’ experience.
Along the way, she fostered a friendly environment that generated loyal volunteers and some customers who came in “every single day,” she noted.
“I’ve never met anybody so dedicated,” volunteer Flemming Nielsen said of Bazarian. “She’s a real spark – because of her personality, they want to donate to that store.”
Added Anne Hambly, a volunteer at the Los Altos store since 1988: “She is such a people person. She’s really formed a bond with all of her volunteers.”
Hambly said Bazarian also never lost sight of the shop’s mission – raising funds for the American Cancer Society in the fight against cancer.
Cancer has hit close to home for Bazarian. In fact, the disease altered the course of her life. Her mother died of cancer in her 40s, when Bazarian was just 14. Her father had died two years earlier.
Big on empathy
Such experiences built not only strength and perseverance of character, but also empathy.
On working with volunteers, Bazarian said: “These are people who are not being paid. There are so many other organizations now. People have an opportunity to work for those organizations. So you have to treasure the people you have – without them, you don’t have a store.”
She also showed sensitivity to donors, appreciating their situations, like needing to downsize, while easing their difficulty in parting with an item that may have as much sentimental as monetary value.
“They have to get rid of things that are so important to them,” Bazarian said. “It’s being there and being able to hear other people’s stories to help them to understand that someone else will have this, it will be meaningful – this is passing a treasure on to someone else that becomes another person’s treasure.”
A Los Altos resident since 1960, Bazarian said her next chapter in life will likely involve some travel – among her planned activities is a bike trip – and taking up bridge. An avid reader, Bazarian also belongs to a book club, and she likes to garden and cook. An active retirement lies ahead.
She smiled as she looked around her office in the back of the store for one of her final times.
“I made a difference,” she said. “That’s important.”
The Discovery Shop is located at 243 Main St. For more information, call 949-0505.