Old Marysville Strawberry Festival queens never die, they just stay sweet.
In this case, a former festival queen is sweet enough to offer her city an unusual business concept.
Christy Clark-Evans and her fiance, Jeff Mertens, opened the thrift store Image of Giving in October at 9414 State Ave., Suite A, in Marysville.
The shop has rock-bottom prices and a free food bank in the back.
Clark-Evans, 42, was Marysville Strawberry Festival queen in 1978.
"Being the queen was awesome," she said. "I learned good communication skills and met a lot of wonderful people."
Knowing everyone in town hasn’t hurt her new business. She shelved a good-paying job as a mortgage consultant with Wells Fargo Bank when she decided to become her own boss.
"I enjoy helping people," she said. "You go through life, have your career, but it comes with stress and high wages."
Then a bell went off, she said.
Let’s open a store.
The aroma is the first thing I noticed walking in the door. It wasn’t the musty, old clothes smell of many thrift shops.
Mertens, 40, who was a welder at Pacific Coast Marine in Mukilteo, said they use air fresheners, but there is another reason why the smell is appealing.
The couple wash all the clothing. They steam out wrinkles before blouses, shirts and baby rompers are lined up on racks that Mertens built.
"We want to sell really good clothes," Mertens said. "In hard times, customers push their budgets to the limit. We want people to feel first-class."
Clark-Evans’ mother, Sharon Bomberry, helps iron clothing for the store at her Marysville home.
Clark-Evans and Mertens said they were happy to find a good location. Across the street, Goodwill doesn’t mind the competition. Betsy McFeely, public relations director for Goodwill Seattle, said they are delighted another thrift store has moved into the area.
"In a recent survey of customers at all 10 Seattle Goodwill retail locations, we confirmed that many of our shoppers visit several thrift stores in the same area in one shopping trip," McFeely said. "So we hope that more stores will draw more shoppers."
Mertens said he doesn’t don’t look at other thrift shops as competition. They are all helping the public, he said.
Any goods folks drop off that they can’t use or sell, the couple pass along to homeless shelters or to be made into rags overseas.
They are earning enough to pay the rent, but dip into their pockets to pay electric bills, Clark-Evans said.
A former U.S. Marine, Clark-Evans was raised in a Marysville home where her father, Walt Clark, who now lives in Toledo, Ohio, let low-income seniors live in trailers on his property.
"I was raised to be frugal," Clark-Evans said. "My father had a heart for helping people. I never judged people on how they looked. We were taught to help the poor."
Her fiance was wearing a spiffy sport coat and slacks — a $5 outfit — from their store. He said they have regular customers who buy 75-cent shirts, and recently sold a computer and artwork.
Try on $2 coats in a nice, ample-sized dressing room. Shoes were half off last week, at 37 cents a pair. They could use more kid’s baseball cleats.
Image of Giving specializes in used clothing, but they also sell vases, purses, toys, car seats and, the day I was there, $12 autographed framed portraits of actresses Cloris Leachman and Annette Funicello.
They set their prices to be busy, Clark-Evans said.
"What is neat is people are bringing us their best stuff," she said. "We’re going to make it."
The small food bank in the back of the shop has boxes of raisins lined up like dominoes.
But I questioned their business acumen. How long could they keep supplying goods for the shop’s free food bank?
It doesn’t matter, they said, it’s all about helping customers with good prices or providing a cup of noodles for a struggling stranger.
Clark-Evans is dedicated to her concept. She didn’t even have to resort to the old festival queen trick of smearing Vaseline on her teeth to keep that sweet smile.
Columnist Kristi O’Harran: 425-339-3451 or