For decades, Steeple People Thrift Store in Minneapolis thrived in a dilapidated building at Franklin and Lyndale avenues. The roof leaked and the air conditioner was unreliable, but the rent was cheap.
Now that their building will be razed next year to make way for apartments, the charity's managers and board members are realizing how good they had it.
"Rents in the area have gone up so much except in our building," said Lee Carlson, board president for Steeple People. "There's been a commercial gentrification going on."
The board plans to permanently close the thrift store near Uptown by Jan. 31 unless a new space can be rented at below-market rates. It worked with a broker for two years, but the rents have been too high or the spaces in need of more repair than their existing building.
If the thrift store closes, it will be at the busiest time in its history. Thrift stores nationwide have flourished since the Great Recession. Many consumers are embracing frugality and environmental friendliness, due in large part to thrifts doing a much better job of merchandising and curating. For-profit secondhand stores are now part of the mix too, including national chains such as Savers and locals such as Unique Thrift, Valu Thrift and Clothes Mentor.
Last year's sales at Steeple People broke the record set in 2014. This year's sales are on pace to top 2015.
In its 37 years, the nonprofit has provided nearly $1 million to small charitable groups, mostly in Minneapolis. Started by four members of Hennepin Avenue Methodist Church in 1979, it offers grants to small, neighborhood programs such as the Dignity Center, Compass 180 and Community Meals, a free Sunday night meals program at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church.
Steeple People operates as an outreach ministry of Hennepin Methodist but stands as a separate nonprofit organization. It operates solely from individual donations of used clothing, bedding, jewelry, furniture and books.
Ted Ammerman, who lives two blocks away from Steeple People, describes it as one of the best values in the Twin Cities. "It's helped me through some rough spots in my life," he said. "I had flooding in my basement and I just got a great couch for $60."
More than half of Steeple People's customers walk to the store or take the bus, said store manager Bob Janssen, one of four employees along with 80 volunteers. "Homeless or wealthy, we get all kinds of customers, but a lot are lower middle class who might buy a $4 shirt with a Social Security check," he said. "It's what they can afford."
Nancy Bennett of Hopkins has been shopping thrift stores for more than 40 years, including difficult times after a divorce. "Now I don't need a thrift store as often," she said as she shopped for Christmas cards and pillowcases on Wednesday. "But I still wouldn't be without them. I come with a shopping list."
Donations of used clothing and household items, including Christmas decorations, will be accepted through Dec. 23. Furniture is no longer accepted. Items can be dropped off at the store or picked up for $30 within a 10-mile radius of the store.
Terry Parker of Minneapolis will miss the store "terribly," for its good merchandise at low prices, even by thrift-store standards, she said. A customer for more than a decade, she gets compliments every time she wears the mink wrap she bagged for $30. "I think of Steeple People every time I wear it," she said.