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Thriving thrift stores

New Ulm thirft stores see sales increases in slow economy

January 25, 2009
JEREMY BEHNKE — Journal Sports Editor

NEW ULM - Carol Guggisberg was getting ready for another busy day at work, looking over the inventory of new merchandise at the New Ulm MRCI (Mankato Rehab Center Incorporated) Bargain$ store.

Guggisberg is the manager of the thrift store. Although she wasn't supposed to start work for another hour, she was busy helping out in the toys, helping arrange and stock the area for the many customers who were already in the store that Monday morning.

While a struggling economy has hurt a lot of local businesses in the New Ulm area and nation-wide, Guggisberg is going through the exact opposite at her business.

Article Photos

MRCI Bargain$ volunteer Deanna Paa works on a display area near the back of the store.

The tough times means people are trying to get the most bang for their buck, and where better to stretch the dollar then at the thrift shop, where one can find pretty much anything if they don't mind paying for something used?

The same can be said across town at the Treasure Haus Inc., where Linette Scharlemann manages the store on Broadway. Treasure Haus Inc. has seen a boom in business, and even January sales are up, a month that is usually down for most retail stores after the holiday season.

"We don't mind being busy," Scharlemann said. "November is always our strongest month, but last November of 2008 was far more busy than it had ever been before.

Our daily average sales were $566.51 in November, which was about $100 more than it has previously been. But even in January we've had some pretty decent sales, and usually January is pretty slow, so we're doing alright.

"We're busy, there's always customers in the store," Scharlemann said. "There's lots to do, but we like it that way."

Guggisberg has been a volunteer at the New Ulm MRCI Bargain$ for more than three years.

MRCI Bargain$ itself has been in New Ulm for approximately 15 years, she said, many of those years in a location by HyVee before moving to its current location in the Super Center Square on Westridge Road.

She said that business has picked up quite a bit since the move across town, and it gives shoppers on the north side of town another place to look for bargains.

Of course, the advantage of shopping at a thrift store includes saving a lot of money.

Both stores have had plenty of business lately, and Scharlemann says it's because customers find good deals, especially on bargain days in the store.

"It's because of our prices," she said. "We often get the comment that we have very reasonable prices."

Thrift shops have an advantage over retail shops in that they rely almost entirely on donations. For now at least, donations are continuing to come in, so there's always something new in the store.

"Donations are about a normal level," Guggisberg said. "In the cold weather of course people don't want to bring stuff out. But we certainly are never short of donations, let's put it that way."

Because of the economy, thrift shops have enjoyed increased business because of people losing jobs or because people are trying to stretch their dollar and get more for their money. Since both stores have so much to offer at small prices, both have been busy with bargain hunters of all ages.

Guggisberg said that like all stores, thrift shops can be specific to the needs of whatever season it is."This time of the year, you've got your winter clothing," Guggisberg said.

"Children's clothing has been going really well, we've got a nice variety and because it's your people who have children (who shop at a thrift shop more often).

"Guggisberg said the thrift shop has advantages of a normal retail store in that it is able to assist families in need.

"We had a family who just lost their home and we were able to get a big supply of clothing to them at a reasonable price and we actually even donated some," she said.

While clothing will always be a popular item at the stores, there is much more one can find by browsing the store, so you can save money on a variety of needs.

The stores have popular items such as household items, dishes, jewelry, books, and children's toys such as games and puzzles.

There are also items such as lamps or purses that help fill specific needs. Guggisberg said it's just a matter of taking the time to go in there and look for it, because more than likely it's there.

"We always say, be sure to allow yourself lots of time, because we have lots of things to look through," she said.

Because there's such a wide variety, Guggisberg said that the inventory is constantly rotating.

"Our motto is - we don't like to keep for things on the shelf for more than two months, because people don't want to come into a store and always see the same thing," she said.

"We've been getting a pretty big variety lately." Guggisberg said that she's seeing younger people shopping the store, and she said that the struggling economy is a reason people are less likely to spend a lot of money at a retail store when they can get something very inexpensive at one of the thrift shops.

"They're just like everyone else, people are losing jobs, and people are afraid of losing jobs," Guggisberg said.

"With the higher price of gas and with everything else."Scharlemann agreed.

"I think the younger and the newer are starting to discover us now and they come in and see that we have books and movies and a variety of clothing to suit a lot of different styles," Scharlemann said.

"I think they think it's more cool now to come to thrift stores. It used to be a more frowned upon thing, but now it's a little more trendy to shop thrift stores. I think we're doing better with the younger generation, I guess."

At MRCI Bargain$, there are about 50 volunteers that work in shifts of about three or four hours whenever they can. That also helps the stores keep costs down since they don't have to pay employees an hourly wage.

Both stores also donate a lot of money and items to various groups in the area. For example, Treasure Haus Inc. donated $87,528.67 in 2008, 75 percent of which went to Minnesota Valley Lutheran High School.

Although no one seems to know when things are going to get better with the economy, both Guggisberg and Scharlemann insist business at their store has been booming during the tough times.

"Some people just love to shop, and this way they can do that without feeling guilty," Scharlemann said.

"They feel like instead of spending hundreds of dollars, they can spend maybe 10, 20 dollars."



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