Nestled among the framed paintings and portraits on display at the Chicken Alley Art and Collectibles sale, which was held on August 15 to benefit Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, a large poster stood out for its bright yellow background, bright red lettering, and striking image of a pouncing tiger, claws and teeth bared.

It was a 1940s Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus poster, and a rare find among the similarly unique items that made up the show.

According to Chicken Alley thrift store manager Sandy Pratt, the poster is so rare that even the Barnum and Bailey museum does not have a copy of it in that size. “They have a smaller version of the same thing, but they don’t have one as big as the one we sold,” she said in an interview at the store this week, surrounded by leftover art show items that have been marked down 20 per cent in the days since the event.

That poster sold for $500. But in total, the art show brought in some $50,000 this year, a number that continues to grow as those leftover items leave the shelves.

Though that number represents a massive increase from the show’s original earnings ­— roughly $4,000 from the first sale eight years ago — Ms. Pratt is hardly surprised by this year’s total. “It just went nuts after that,” she said of the first year. “People love it.”

The idea began with Olga Hirshhorn, an enthusiastic thrift shopper whose late husband was the founding donor of the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. She has a knack for making what’s old new again. One day, she stumbled upon an oil painting of a seaside landscape at the thrift shop, and snatched it up for 15 bucks. Her lucky find got the wheels in her head churning, though, when she noticed that it was not uncommon to find quality artwork at the store for rock-bottom prices.

“There’s good artwork in the thrift shop, and nobody realizes it,” said Ms. Pratt.

Mrs. Hirshhorn thought it might be fun to gather all that artwork together and hold a spoof of an afternoon art opening, a reception complete with wine and finger foods. Galleries hold them weekly on the Island during the summer months. Why not Chicken Alley?

“So that’s what we did,” said Ms. Pratt. “We pulled it together in about six weeks, the first one.” Now, the concept has grown so much that it takes the entire year to plan for the grand event. There’s no more wine, or snacks; the crowds have simply grown too large. “But that’s how it started,” said Ms. Pratt.

Now, the group of roughly 50 volunteers that helps out at the thrift shop throughout the year keeps track of items that seem art-show-appropriate, as they come in. “As things come in and we unpack boxes, the volunteers will say, ‘This is for the art show,’” said Ms. Pratt. “They’ll find one thing that’s quirky, unusual, flea market, really valuable, the whole range. Special items, vintage items,” she said, pointing out various treasures among the items leftover from the show.

For instance, a metal contraption called a Stimulax, which alleges to be a personal massager, but appears to be more like an alien kitchen appliance. “Stuff like that, that’s really foolish but you’re only going to see it once or twice in a lifetime, we figure we’ll show it to people in the art show,” said Ms. Pratt.

On an adjacent shelf are the remains of a 30-piece collection of framed illustrations, all that’s left of a salvaged book printed in 1864. “We framed them individually,” said Ms. Pratt, because though the book was damaged, the color pictures were too beautiful to discard. There are a handful of the illustrations still displayed at the thrift shop, but the rest were claimed at the show. “They found a good home and a good use. Otherwise it was a book that was no good; it would have probably been trashed,” said Ms. Pratt.

The art show gives the thrift store employees a perfect excuse to do a yearly overhaul of inventory at the shop, and Ms. Pratt said they spent a full day before the show hauling out unsold items from the year, with a little help from the sheriff’s department. Most were things that had been marked down several times, and weren’t likely to sell. But even outside of the art show, Chicken Alley is often a land of unclaimed treasures, and is popular year-round for Islanders in search of their diamond in the rough. All proceeds go to Martha’s Vineyard Community Services.

The thrift shop helps out in other ways, as well. The people at Community Services might ask them to help in providing a coat or warm clothes for a homeless person to wear during the cold winter months, or furnish an apartment occupied by a woman who has left behind all her possessions in escaping an abusive home. The thrift store workers also watch out for their elderly patrons, and provide a friendly face and good conversation for those return visitors who might otherwise be all alone.

Overall, the thrift store is like a supportive branch of the community organization. “We act with Community Services to provide goods and services for their clients,” said Ms. Pratt.