CLARION – The Center Closet clothing store isn’t just dressing Clarion University students for success, it’s also enabling them to conduct groundbreaking research.
The Center Closet opened in August of 2013 in the 800 Center along Main Street as a sustainable income source for the Center for Conservation Studies, a non-profit organization that oversees a variety of projects, including the Clarion-Limestone Amphibian Research Center.
The Center for Conservation Studies was founded by Andrew Keth, Ph.D., a Clarion University biology professor. CLARC is the only center of its kind where students can learn about amphibians and other natural resources. It’s located on the campus of Clarion-Limestone School District.
“Grants of all kinds are fewer and much more competitive these days. We still write grants, but they are generally for specific projects. While grant funding is important for specific projects, keeping a non-profit afloat and productive requires funding for many purposes, all the time,” Keth said.
Enter the Center Closet. The business model for the store is simple. “Any profit that is left after covering the costs of the store goes straight to CCS to fund projects like CLARC,” said Logan Keth, a freshman writing and marketing double major, who is in charge of retail management and marketing for CCS. He’s also Dr. Keth’s son.
The Center Closet does have some paid employees but Dr. Keth volunteers in the store, helping to keep costs low.
The Center Closet obtains its merchandise from a variety of sources, including buyback days. On those days, the public may bring in gently used clothes that are free of stains, tears, holes, missing buttons and broken zippers, Logan Keth said.
The staff at the Center Closet sorts through the items and makes two offers, one in cash and the other in store credit, and the seller decides which one to accept.
“We will also go on buying trips on the weekends out to major cities in order to get a more diverse selection of styles,” Logan Keth said.
In addition to buyback days and buying trips, the Center Closet buys some merchandise from wholesalers and accepts donations any time. The store offers a section of T-shirts from Amphibious Outfitters, rents tuxedos through Mr. Tux Formalwear, offers seasonal items as it did for Halloween, and sells Pepsi products.
“The store has especially been growing in popularity among university students. The students have been our main market from the beginning. We try to pay attention to what the current trends are on campus and what the students are looking for in a clothing store,” Logan Keth said.
“Also, we understand that most students have very little money to spend on clothes. We’ve taken that into account and are offering all of our clothes starting at 50 percent or more off retail price, and we always have different sales running on top of that.”
Another positive aspect of the store is that it’s adaptable to whatever the market demands.
“The Center Closet can be whatever Clarion needs it to be. We are creative and will morph as the market dictates,” Dr. Keth said.
Meanwhile, at CLARC, Clarion University students are accomplishing a variety of goals, including educating high school students about amphibians and environmental resources, leading the charge in conservation efforts, conducting Clarion University research projects and eventually partnering with C-L for additional research projects, said Brianna Henry, lab manager for CLARC and a senior biology major with a concentration in ecology and a minor in sociology.
“CLARC is a connection to the community and, most importantly, aside from the research that is coming/will come out of that facility, it is a message. It illustrates that a small, rural community can do big things, that young people can have scientific and technological opportunities without moving to a big urban center,” Dr. Keth said.
CLARC is in the process of readying spaces for possible weekend openings and making a zoo-quality home and exhibit for the university’s animals, including an Amazon tree boa, a copperhead snake, corn snakes, poison dart frogs, a cane toad and maybe one day, some fish, Henry said.
Henry said fellow student Melissa Lutz has been leading the renovation efforts for these future endeavors by coordinating students to get the CLARC facilities in shape. Facilities include a greenhouse and a garage.
There also are some ongoing projects at CLARC.
Henry is studying the impact of pesticides on crayfish, which she caught in the wild for this project. Crayfish assist in natural decomposition in streams are a valuable food source.
Another important project at CLARC is in the greenhouse where Clarion-Limestone High School students have been growing food that has been used in the school’s cafeteria, Henry said.
“Clarion-Limestone has taken a lot of pride in what we have there,” Henry said.
As of now, the relationship between the university and the school district is educational in nature, but Henry believes that relationship will one day evolve to the point where high school students will be involved in their own research projects. Henry said one vision is to host an after-school program in the spring, involving an ongoing experiment that can happen there every couple of weeks.
It’s all part of a greater plan to help the students “learn more about the world around them,” Henry said.
“CLARC is small but growing, and many individuals and businesses in the community are behind it. Parents are now approaching us to find out how their kids can be involved and at a very young age,” Dr. Keth said.
Dr. Keth also is working through the Center for Conservation Studies to sponsor a team of high school students, possibly from Clarion-Limestone, Clarion Area and Keystone, to attend the Pittsburgh Regional Science and Engineering Fair. The hope is that the students would work on a project during 2015 and present at the 2016 spring conference, Smith said.
“The Center for Conservation Studies is unique in that it is set up to fund and facilitate research and education programs,” Dr. Keth said. “Happily it has become an entity that, thanks to those at the helm, prepares young people to be self-motivated problem solvers.”
There also is a plan to provide more facilities like CLARC in other areas, including a marine biology station in Florida where inner-city teens would be mentored, Dr. Keth said. “We hope to acquire a large, local facility in the community that will greatly expand our capacity to teach and do research.”
All of these projects are ultimately becoming a reality, thanks to some discounted clothing.
“The Center Closet has the potential to provide steady, flexible income for all of these opportunities. We just need the community to embrace it and utilize it,” Dr. Keth said.