There are plenty of regular household items available at Mankato’s growing thrift stores, but walking out with a rare gem is a distinct possibility. Old style turntables and a diverse array of antiques and musical instruments show up every once in a while, mixed in with more common items like clothes and furniture. There are nearly a dozen thrift stores in the Mankato area, and they each have a niche to stand out in an increasingly crowded field.
“There’s a variety of thrift stores in Mankato, and a lot of good causes,” said Dave Gefre, store manager at VINE Home Thrift Store, which donates profits to VINE Faith in Action programs and services.
“Ours is a little different than some where many focus on clothing, small items and some furniture,” Gefre said. “We are much more focused on household items, furniture of all sizes, we don’t do clothing for the most part here.”
The 8,000 square foot VINE Home Thrift Store will be celebrating its 10th anniversary in August. Gefre said they have something for everybody. Words like “chic” and “vintage” are part of their daily vocabulary. He said people enjoy coming to the store often just to browse.
Most thrift stores fill their showrooms with merchandise acquired through donations, and sifting through the items dropped off every day plays a big part in the whole operation. Gefre’s staff and volunteers check donated items to make sure they work and are in good condition. They don’t accept mattresses, box springs, or any gas powered appliances, and are phasing out more outdated items like entertainment centers.
For items they don’t accept, Gefre said they’re happy to call up the Habitat for Humanity Restore just around the corner and send donators their way.
“If other stores take things, we’re happy to send them to theirs if it’s not something that we take,” Gefre said. “There’s plenty of donations to go around. If we can benefit or somebody else can benefit for their causes, we’re happy to share those resources.”
Across town at Neigh- borhood Thrift Store, clothes are the specialty. At the checkout counter, day old bread and sweets are occasionally available for anybody in need. Store manager Lisa Myran said they also have donated canned food on hand, which fits into the store’s mission of feeding about 160 families in need with a supply of groceries once a month held at Goodrich Construction in Mankato.
“We try to have as much fresh produce as possible,” Myran said.
Some of that is donated by Hy-Vee, and from July through October about 15 volunteers use the store’s proceeds to drive down to the Cedar Valley Produce Auction in northeast Iowa to buy fresh fruit and vegetables in bulk grown by Amish and Mennonite farmers.
As with VINE’s thrift store, Myran said they receive donations every day.
“After garage sales we get a lot, and in the spring and fall because people are changing out their clothes and their seasonal items,” Myron said. “They’re doing their spring and fall cleaning, so those are the heavier times of when we get the most donations. October through December are our busiest months.”
Volunteers play a big role in the day-to-day operations. At Neighborhood Thrift Store, the dozen volunteers outnumber the staff, and there are nearly 40 volunteers at VINE Home Thrift Store who donate their time cleaning and sorting donated items, testing out equipment and pricing items.
It’s harder to find volunteers than it used to be, but Gefre said the ones they have all come with different talents and skills, like repairing furniture or electronic items before they hit the shelves.
At MRCI Thrift Shop, where profits go towards programs that support people with disabilities, store manager Ally Storm said they have about 30 volunteers who come in regularly, although they could use more.
“It used to be easy,” Storm said. “Everyone wanted to volunteer, church groups and different kinds of people wanted to and now it’s so hard to get them. We’re actually in need of volunteers right now and we’ve been trying to recruit people but it’s hard; people have a lot of stuff going on.”
Partnerships with other organizations helps alleviate that gap. At the end of each semester, Minnesota State University’s international students volunteer as part of their cultural contribution scholarship requirements.
Storm said unique specialty items aren’t unheard of; they recently acquired an electric bicycle, and are looking towards selling some of those items online. In May, they acquired an adjacent building to house their ever-increasing inventory.
“It continues to grow,” Storm said. “It seems like thrift stores are the thing. We have competition in town; so we try to stay ahead of what’s going on to try to keep up with everyone else. We try to strive with our customer service.”
That includes conveniences like curbside pickup at MRCI Thrift Shop. Volunteers and staff from VINE Thrift Store have a truck to pick up larger furniture, and Neighborhood Thrift Shop sells items at half-price on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
But they all say it’s their network of volunteers, donations and customers that keep the operation running smoothly.
“The employees and volunteers are amazing,” Myran said. “We wouldn’t be here without them, just like we couldn’t be here without all the people that donate and shop.”