BELLVILLE -- Love Our Hero’s has been open just shy of a year, but it’s already undergone a major expansion.
The non-profit thrift shop celebrated its grand opening Friday at its new location, 24 Bell Street in Bellville. The shop’s new home takes up the majority of the building, which formerly housed Pumpkin Hollow Antiques.
Tami Oyster recently bustled back and forth, answering questions from volunteers and thanking clients for stopping by.
“It’s like a dream. I can’t believe it’s even happening honestly,” Oyster said.
Love Our Hero’s opened in February 2019, in a much smaller building on Durbin Street. It was a significant risk -- Oyster had just $90 remaining after paying the first month of rent for the building.
“I was happy to get to the next month and the next month, just to make sure my rent was paid,” she recalled.
All of the shop’s proceeds provide needed support to local veterans. Oyster shared her vision with everyone she met, and the community responded with overwhelming support. Donations began pouring in, and by May, she had run out of room to store merchandise.
Years before Oyster founded Love Our Hero’s, she felt God drawing her towards the Pumpkin Hollow building.
“I’ve been coming to this building for five years and praying,” she said. “I didn’t know why. God laid this building on my heart.”
The building is close to 10 times the size of the original location, but Oyster persisted, guided by faith and a gut instinct.
“I just knew it was going to work out. I didn’t understand how or why or what it was going to take, I just knew it was supposed to be,” she said.
The shop will be open on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Thursdays through Sundays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
In addition to running Love Our Hero’s, Oyster hopes to open the Freedom Cafe and Ice Cream Shoppe in the spring. The cafe will kick off with a soup and sandwich style lunch menu, but Oyster hopes to eventually expand to breakfast.
Her vision is the cafe and ice cream shop will raise additional money for veterans, but also provide a few jobs in the area.
Next door to the cafe, the building also houses J & R Wholesale, which opened for business on Friday, and Valley Spin, a veteran-owned cycling studio.
Oyster is also working to convert a second building on the property to a single resident transitional home called the Veteran Villa. Oyster has already selected the home’s first resident, a veteran who will live rent-free for a year while he gets back on solid financial footing.
Oyster stated that none of her work would be possible without the support of the community and the volunteers who run the store.
“Everybody who’s volunteered or donated or bought an item, this is theirs,” said Oyster. “The whole town is behind this.”
Although veterans can receive support through the VA and other government agencies, Oyster has seen many struggles. Some are are caught in the middle -- they make too much to qualify for assistance, but not enough to live without it.
“They may be $200 over what they can make each month and that $200 is not going to fix their furnace, or make their car payment, or pay their utilities or have food,” Oyster said, her voice tinged with sadness and frustration.
“I have so many referrals just for food,” she continued. “It breaks my heart, quite honestly.”
Cathy Nevins, who volunteers at the shop, said veterans and their families are always extremely grateful for the support. She recalled an instance where the shop purchased a bed for a veteran who didn’t have one, as well as a chair and some other household items.
“It’s amazing. To see their faces when you come into their home and bring things to them . . . It’s hard to put into words,” Nevins stated.
Megan Worcester, a local military spouse and advocate, said the work Oyster does is truly unique.
“I have the privilege of working with local and national organizations that serve the military and veteran community from both the federal and private sector. The work Ms. Tami Oyster is doing in our very own community is unlike anything else,” Worcester said.
“All too often, I find some of our local veterans and service members in situations where they fall between cracks in systems,” she continued. “Tami makes it easy to usher these heroes to get the help they need and deserve. It’s a great feeling to know there is an organization in our community like Love Our Hero’s.”