In the same downtown location for 35 years at Main and Highland, the St. Patrick Bargain Store assists multiple charities from its thrift store sales.
Although originally started by St. Patrick Catholic Church and many parishioners still work there, the store has volunteers from other denominations who send the proceeds to other charities.
The only paid employee is manager Jessica Caldwell, who has been at the store since November 2019. The rest of the staff are volunteers.
Some days, it is only Caldwell and one other person, although they prefer to have five. About 21 volunteers are scheduled each week, and an average of 45 to 50 work there. About half work one shift while others work up to four shifts.
Volunteers track their time and hours, and each quarter the proceeds are divided among charities the volunteers designate, such as Relay for Life or various churches.
Caldwell said she just had time to get comfortable in her position when the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted normal business. The store reopened in June, but had to cut its hours. Caldwell said sales were probably a little slower the past year.
“We never get real slow,” she said.
Caldwell began at the store after working as a paraprofessional educator with the ANW Cooperative. She worked in Iola for six years after working at Humboldt High School for three and a half years.
She said working at the store fills three of her basic needs: socializing, organizing, and exploring mysteries.
“There’s always new stuff,” Caldwell said. “Every day’s a new adventure.”
Each week brings a “what is it?” item, she said, something they can’t figure out. Caldwell said she has offered to make the puzzle a special.
“You can have it half price if you can tell us (what it is),” she said.
Some of the odd items are lawn ornaments, carpet and large rugs. Twice over the past six months, she has found grain that mice had hidden.
They have received Marine Corps uniforms, and wedding dresses are a rare item. Caldwell said they have also received new or nearly-new air fryers and Insta-pots.
Due to legal and space issues, the dock for donations is open two days a week. People have asked if they can donate beds or dressers, but Caldwell said they do not have enough space in the store.
Some of the donated items do not bring as much revenue as they should, Caldwell said, because they would only appeal to niche customers. She has gotten a rooster cookie jar, and a purse valued at $200, but she does not have the time and savvy to sell items online properly.
She said she has received sewing machines with stands valued at $150, and shoes, purses and dishes are items she does not have a way to sell. In one case, a complete china set originally priced at $150 later sold for half.
Caldwell said clothes and kitchenware are the top two donated items. Clothes and bedding sell the best, making up 60 to 70 percent of sales. Donated clothing usually rotates out in two weeks, and unsold items are re-donated to the Salvation Army.
The store is open 9 am to 4 pm Tuesdays through Fridays and 11 am to 3 pm Saturdays. The donation dock is open 9 am to 3:30 pm Tuesdays and Wednesdays.