Thirty-five years ago, Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church launched a small thrift shop that it hoped would both promote recycling and carve a new funding stream for neighborhood services.

That stream widened into a river, raising more than $800,000 over the years for everything from neighborhood projects to services for battered women.

This year the nonprofit — now called Steeple People Surplus Store and operating out of its own storefront — is about to chart a new course. After nearly 30 years at 2004 Lyndale Av. S., the neighborhood institution must find a new home because of redevelopment.

It’s one of several new initiatives underway at the nonprofit, which few expected would endure three decades.

“The church is sort of a beacon in the neighborhood, and we always hoped to be an extension of that,” said Gail Onan, executive director for store transition.

Steeple People was the brainchild of four couples at the church, Onan said. Three are still living: Hank Garwick, Kay Moberg and Evelyn Ahlberg.

They opened the first store in the parsonage basement, eventually moving to its current home at Lyndale and Franklin Avenues S. Clients range from low-income residents to students to wealthier folks looking for a deal. The store offers the basics, such as furniture and kitchen goods, as well as boutique items. Sales reached a record high last year.

Steeple People, in exchange, writes out checks to dozens of nonprofits, such as Emma Norton Services, Simpson Housing and Harriet Tubman Center.

This year, the store has extra work on its plate. It is searching for a new building, preferably in the neighborhood. It is launching a new website. It is also creating a program to help unemployed volunteers earn skills certificates, said store manager Diana Schleisman.

That’s not to mention plans for a 35th anniversary celebration. Will it be around another 35 years?

“Of course!” laughed Schleisman. “We want to be around another 135 years.”


Jean Hopfensperger 612 673-4511