Beyond the trendy striped t-shirts and used sun hats, there’s a hint that Out of the Closet is a different kind of thrift store: a neon sign advertising free HIV testing.
Out of the Closet (OTC), at North High Street and East 5th Avenue, is a thrift store with a mission to create change in the sexual health of its Columbus community.
The store is part of AIDS Health Foundation (AHF), a non-profit organization based in Los Angeles. Because of its owners, OTC operates less like a store and more like a charity, with approximately 96% of revenue going to AHF.
AHF serves 45 countries and is one of the largest providers of HIV medical care in the United States
“(AHF) had a lot of people who wanted to help but didn’t have large sums of money to give to charity, but they had stuff,” said Columbus store manager Brent Burington. “So they opened the first OTC in West Hollywood, California.”
All clothing and household items found in Out of the Closet are donated. Donations can be dropped off at the store daily or picked up by the store if donors are unable to drop it off themselves.
Like other thrift stores, OTC will accept a wide range of products, including furniture, jewelry, clothing, homewares, electronics, books and art. The store has proven to be a popular destination for students as they enter and leave university apartments.
But visitors can use OTC for more than affordable shopping. They can find free HIV and STI tests inside the store. The store also operates a pharmacy to help people with financial difficulties obtain medication.
AHF seeks to open thrift stores in locations where HIV and STIs are higher than the national average. In 2019, the CDC listed Ohio among top 10 states for new HIV diagnoses among adults and adolescents.
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“There’s always the stigma of people … not wanting people to know they’re going to get tested for an STI,” Burington said. “It’s one thing if they say, ‘Oh, I’m going to the thrift store’ and they just show up and get tested.”
In Columbus, the testing site typically sees 40 or 50 patients a day.
“Oh my God, we’re always busy,” said Wynette Collins, the clinic’s program manager. “Sometimes we have to stop picking people up at around 3 p.m., if not earlier.”
The clinic is open for HIV testing daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. For STI screening, the clinic is open Monday and Thursday from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Collins said the clinic sees patients of all ages. But the AHF also targets areas with large college-age populations, Burington said.
“You get a bunch of kids away from home, away from their parents for the first time as adults,” Burington said. “They don’t always think the right way when they go out for fun at night.”
Burington said he helped Out of the Closet go from a $40,000 deficit to about $70,000 in profit during his first year at the store, in 2017. The store has turned a profit every year since. , did he declare.
Before Burington came to OTC, he was an actor. After marrying her husband, he decided to stay closer to home while pursuing a more fulfilling career.
“My grandfather had a saying,” Burington said. “‘There are jobs that pay your bank account and there are jobs that pay your soul, and if you can find one that does both, great.”