Renovation injects life into fading Salvation Army Thrift Store

Anyone who frequents the Salvation Army Thrift Store has likely noticed some drastic changes in the secondhand shop.

Maj. Bob Miles, with the Salvation Army, said when he took over as interim major when Majors John and Judith McCarty retired in January, he had one goal: make the store viable again. The thrift store is supposed to provide supplemental income for the nonprofit, generating money that can easily be shifted around. However, that hasn’t been the case for the local chapter for quite some time, Miles said.

“It does raise funds if it’s appropriately run,” Miles said. “But we were counting everything as income and not really taking a hard look at expenses There was an impression it was making funds.”

Something needed to be done.

With the new permanent majors – Ben and Beth Stillwell – set to take over at the end of June, Miles wanted to leave an impression. He wanted to ensure the thrift store would be easy to maintain once they were set up in Marshalltown. He got to work overhauling the store, making it cleaner and more accessible. He also needed to ensure that the store’s few employees knew what was expected of them.

Normally, Miles said, the Salvation Army would simply close the store to make the adjustments, but that would require laying off all its employees during the closure. He didn’t want to do that. He sat the employees down and explained to them that if the store didn’t start making money, the Salvation Army would need to reduce its staff. They got on board with the changes.

“Bad habits are hard to break,” Miles said. “It came as a shock to many that the store was losing money.”

Employees replaced many of the store’s racks and revised the floor plan to make the aisles bigger. They also purged a good chunk of items that had gone unsold. Miles said the store rotates its clothing and home furnishings by continually reducing the price until they sell. If the item isn’t sold in a specific time – determined by the type of product -, the store gets rid of it. Clothes are sold to a rag dealers, and furniture is often donated to those who cannot afford it.

The Salvation Army simply doesn’t have the space to house all the items it receives, Miles said. Space is always a concern. In part, it necessitated the renovation.

“A lot of the product was difficult to find because it was covered up by other product,” Miles said. “You have your facility, and you have to work with what you got. Time and space are money. It either cost money or it makes money.”

Another change is clothes are no longer all the same price. Miles said employees take into consideration quality and condition. So, a new Tommy Hillfiger shirt or pair of Nautica slacks fetch a better price than a worn-out Walmart sweater. Staff also cleaned the store thoroughly.

Hattie Moyer, of Gilman, said she has been coming into the store “forever.” Although she did note how much cleaner the store looked, she said she likes the old layout better. The plus-size clothes are mixed in with other clothes, but she said she will continue to shop at the thrift store because she can get three or four items used for the same price as a single item new. She said she likes the store better than Goodwill.

“It’s kind of confusing the first time you come in,” Moyer said. “It’s like anything new: it takes some getting used to.”

Miles said the changes have already started making a difference. The store has seen a $2,000 increase for the month when compared to the average of the previous five months. Although the construction along 13th Street hasn’t been helpful, he said the thrift store plans to sell paperback books and children’s clothes for 13 cents during the June 15 13th Street Committee celebration of the revitalization effort.

And, as it has always done, Miles said the Salvation Army Thrift store will continue to provide items to the poor by performing needs assessments to determine whether prices should be lowered or the store should provide vouchers on a case-to-case basis.

Theresa Jackson, of Marshalltown, said she often comes to the store with her daughter to shop for her grandchildren. She too said the store looks much cleaner. It smells nicer, and she can get around easier, she said. She loves the changes. She also loves the staff.

“They are down to earth,” Jackson said.