The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 19, 2013

Krohn: Don’t be thrifty with resale shops

By Tim Krohn
Free Press Staff Writer

— The book of Deuteronomy may have been referring to thrift stores with the “prosper and multiply” saying.

You can’t turn up a street in Mankato without running into a thrift store. They’ve gone from tiny, shabby shops to large, clean, organized stores.

And people love them.

The number of thrift stores has grown 7 percent a year in recent years with more than 25,000 resale, consignment and not-for-profit resale shops in the United States.

Their power is beginning to rival traditional stores. About 17 percent of Americans shop at a thrift store during a given year, just shy of the 21 percent who shop in a major department store in a given year.  

Thrift stores are the perfect business. They give shoppers good deals on clothes and other items that are often like new, they promote reuse rather than land-filling, and many help charities raise money. And people enjoy the treasure-hunt aspect of the stores.

So it was puzzling when the Burnsville City Council recently killed a thrift store project.

ARC of Minnesota, a popular chain of thrift stores whose proceeds benefit people who have mental disabilities, wanted to buy and renovate a building to open a new store in Burnsville.

The city had raised a number of site issues with ARC — the kind of issues that routinely come up with new developments. ARC made adjustments that satisfied the issues.

But the council, in a 3-2 vote, put a one-year moratorium on new thrift shops, saying there are land-use issues that need to be reviewed.

Backers of the moratorium were a bit hazy on exactly what land-use issues are so confounding to them that they need a year to study it.

Councilwoman Mary Sherry said thrift stores are a “relatively new” type of retailing that needs more study.

I’m not sure what department store the councilor has been living under, but thrift stores aren’t exactly new concepts.

Speaking of department stores, city leaders might be turning their noses up at the thrift store because it would be across the street from the city’s pride and joy — Burnsville Mall — and amid the strip of national retail chain stores along County Road 42.

Don’t you just hate it when someone wants to put up a bargain store next to your Bath & Body Works?

Meanwhile, Minneapolis recently went the other way.

The city — for reasons no one could really explain — had a zoning ordinance on its books that said thrift stores had to be at least 1,000 feet from each other. The council got rid of the requirement, hoping to attract more second-hand stores. The stores are now clustering together and drawing lots of shoppers who can easily go from one to another.

As national chain brick-and-mortar stores are showing some decline from online competition and changing shopping patterns, Burnsville may want to embrace a retail concept that shows nothing but growth.  

Tim Krohn is a Free Press staff writer. He can be contacted at 344-6383 or tkrohn@mankatofreepress.com.