The Artifac Tree: A Community Cornerstone

Welcome Sign

Beyond the high-end retail stores and paparazzi havens of Malibu’s Civic Center lies perhaps one of the town’s best-kept secrets: the Artifac Tree Thrift Shop. 

Among its many attributes, the Artifac Tree is likely the only place in Malibu to find vintage typewriters, Prada handbags and a Mrs. Pac-Man arcade game for sale.

Opened in 1973, the thrift shop has become much more than a secondhand store. It’s where those in dire straits look for a helping hand, where volunteers sort through donations ranging from Steve Madden shoes to Tory Burch bags to priceless fine China sets, and where many in Malibu drop off items they hope can be of better use to someone else. 

Talk about variety. 

The glue holding the Artifac Tree together is Martha Templeton, who began volunteering in 2003 and was hired as manager in 2008.

Frequently flanked by customers, local workers and those seeking help, Templeton is at the helm of it all — but she doesn’t like to take much credit. 

“We’re here for the community,” she said. 

She also rightfully credits the Artifac Tree’s Board of Directors, which is led by Malibu local Sandy Salka. Salka comes in throughout the week to help clean, appraise and organize jewelry donations. She even makes her own jewelry and takes pride in helping out as much as possible. 

“We support the needy, battered women, the homeless. We also employ the needy,” the board president said. “…and last month we [finished] our most successful quarter.” 

Board members are also the ones who give the OK for new hires or to provide financial assistance if someone is in serious need. 

“People complain about there being a lot of homeless people around but don’t realize that we try and help people get out of Malibu,” Templeton said. “There’s a lot of people that get stuck in Malibu and come to us for help.” 

Just last week, the board helped fund a bus ticket for a woman who lost her job in Malibu and had a new job lined up in New Orleans. 

But talk to the workers and volunteers and you’ll hear them credit Templeton for making the Artifac Tree a safe haven for many. 

“Martha is very good-natured,” volunteer worker Howard Yusim said. “Her heart is made of gold.” 

When 23-year-old Ebony Koelle was homeless and on the streets less than two years ago, she came to Templeton for help. Koelle spent time volunteering at the Artifac Tree while she was in high school, so the two had formed a prior bond. 

Nearly two years later, Koelle has made an incredible rebound and is the young, friendly face behind the cash register. She works full-time at the shop, mainly handling organization and front-desk duties. 

“She’s got so many connections,” Koelle said of Templeton. “She’s helped me find a place to live in Pacific Palisades, and I have a car now.” 

Because of her turnaround, Koelle now has dreams of opening her own thrift or consignment shop someday. 

Templeton additionally counts on about 10 volunteers to help keep the Monday through Friday operation moving along, including Yusim, Lauren Permaul and Alicia Eskigian. They are part of a group of special needs volunteers from the Esperance Center in Malibu who come in at least once a week to help organize their assigned departments. 

“I do children’s clothes,” Permaul said proudly. “We get a lot of baby clothes, toddler clothes.” 

Yusim said he does a little bit of everything. 

“I put stuff away, help customers lifting items, price checks,” Yusim told The Malibu Times during a recent visit to the shop. 

Eskigian helps manage the baby and toy sections. One of her proudest moments was helping catch a would-be shoplifter who slipped an item into her purse. 

“She thought no one saw her!” Eskigian said. 

Templeton will often let local groups borrow items for days at a time as long as they are returned, including school students looking for costumes or historic decorations for special events. 

Browsing through the Artifac Tree’s bounty of items, it’s easy to think the store has more than enough stock, but with winter approaching, Templeton said they are in need of warm clothes and socks, which they often give to the homeless braving through cold nights. 

“I really don’t think there’s any other place in Malibu people can go and get this kind of help,” Templeton said. 

The Artifac Tree is located at 3728 Cross Creek Rd. and is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.