Josh Hagberg, the manager of the Salvation Army’s new family store in Fridley, has a lot to smile about. For one thing, the store, which opens Saturday , will sell new merchandise, a departure from the army’s traditional donated-items stores. For another, Hagberg has successfully turned his personal life around.

Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

Graduate of Salvation Army rehab program now runs Fridley store

  • Article by: ANNA PRATT
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • January 8, 2013 - 7:19 PM

For Josh Hagberg, a theme at work applies just as well to him, but on a deeper level. That is, "There's lots of evolution happening, hopefully for the better," he said, sitting at a table near the entrance of the new Salvation Army store in Fridley, which opens on Saturday.

The Salvation Army Family Store, which Hagberg is heading up, will carry brand-new merchandise exclusively -- a new direction for the metro area thrift store chain.

Similarly, the job represents a fresh, new chapter in Hagberg's life.

Hagberg started working for the Salvation Army in various local thrift stores after he went through the organization's six-month rehabilitation program in downtown Minneapolis in 2009. In the past, the 30-year-old Hagberg, who struggled with drugs and alcohol for a number of years, spent some time in jail and on the street.

Since then, he's not only turned his life around, but he's worked his way up through the organization.

Tom Canfield, the district manager for thrift store operations for the Salvation Army metro area and a graduate of the rehabilitation program too, saw Hagberg's potential early on. "Josh was someone we saw make a big change in his time," Canfield said. "He came in pretty beat-up and broken."

Through the program's "work therapy" component, which places people in jobs at the center or in Salvation Army stores, Hagberg proved to be a reliable and dedicated worker.

"He displayed a lot of integrity," Canfield said. "He was willing to work any job, get his hands dirty and work long and hard hours."

It wasn't long before Hagberg, who started as an entry-level employee, became a store manager, first at the Burnsville location and then in Bloomington. "His store was so effective that we wanted to train all managers under him," Canfield said.

'Extraordinary case'

Although he's seen other workers come through with a similar background, Hagberg is "an extraordinary case. Most managers take several years to learn how to manage products and people," Canfield said. "He was able to grasp it in a short time."

For Hagberg, managing the store is a chance to contribute to a program "that gave me back my life," he said.

Until he arrived at the rehabilitation center, he was on a spiral downward "that was going to take me to death," he said.

The rehabilitation center, which provides housing and therapy geared around physical, emotional and spiritual well-being, helped him regain his footing.

"It's a good place for second chances," Hagberg said.

One of the most valuable lessons he learned along the way, he said, is that "the only thing I can control is myself. I got a new design for living that works."

Since then, he has tried to mend relationships with family members and friends. "I had to rebuild trust," which wasn't an instant process, he said.

The program also strengthened his faith, something he'd gotten away from.

'It's not who I am'

Now when he looks back on his old life, "I don't even feel like that person I was," Hagberg said. "I still remember it and I don't want to forget it; it's a part of my life, but it's not who I am today."

The Fridley store will offer everything from dishes to electronics, which it resells from various big-box retailers, he said.

While the organization's more traditional thrift stores sell donated items, in this case, "we're trying to set it up like a conventional retail store," Hagberg said.

Although some other Salvation Army stores also sell new goods, "this is something that's never been done before," on this scale, across the region, he said. "It's our flagship store of this sort."

The store's unique format is a response to the fact that "donations are not where they used to be," he said. At the same time, demand has gone up, he said.

The store, which also will collect donations, is to be a prototype for other Salvation Army locations throughout the metro area.

Even though January tends to be a difficult month in retail, "I'm excited for this new chapter," he said. "We're pretty hopeful it'll do well."

The fact that the profit goes back into the Salvation Army's rehabilitation program makes it even more rewarding. "It will save men's lives, ultimately," he said.

Anna Pratt is a Twin Cities freelance writer.

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