Most people don’t realize the recently renamed Two Fish Thrift Store, was in place more than thirty years ago long before the food shelf operation got started. The thrift store started on a voluntary basis originally known as The Clothing Center in the mid 1980’s.
“Some of our volunteers have been here from the beginning. They began by sorting clothes in a basement. These amazingly dedicated ladies have been helping get clothes to the community for a long, long time. They inspire us, all of us,” said Heidi Herron Development Director for Five Loaves Food Shelf and Two Fish Thrift Store.
“Back then, everything at The Clothing Center cost 25 cents. Today, even though the price of a shirt has gone up to $2 or $3, we use a voucher system. People can be referred through Five Loaves, Grace Place, the veteran’s organizations and other local service organizations. Once referred, they can obtain a $25 voucher than can be used like cash at the thrift store,” explained Herron.
Over the years it just made sense that a lot of the people who needed clothes also needed food.
The idea has always been that sales from the thrift store would be used to support food shelf programs. A dollar earned at the thrift store may be leveraged to purchase $7 worth of food for the food shelf. It is easy to appreciate the excitement surrounding the thrift store’s pending relocation to its new, larger main street location in the old Suzanna’s Restaurant building at 118 Homestead Drive just off South Knowles Ave. At 2,500 square feet, the new space is nearly double the size of the existing store and will include office space, retail space, a separate entrance to accept donations and sorting area.
“The new space will allow us to accept a wider variety of donations including furniture. The furniture doesn’t need to be designer quality, but it does need to be gently used and clean. We don’t have the resources and can’t afford to do the extra work to clean or restore furniture,” said Thrift store manager Michelle Henke.
Herron and Henke are quick to remind people that even torn clothing and worn out shoes have value.
“Practically any kind of clothing is of value. Torn tee shirts can be resold as rags. The Epilepsy Foundation gives us 10 cents a pound for everything. Even old shoes can put food on the shelves,” explained Herron.
Following the move, the goal of the thrift store is to be open considerably more hours. However being open traditional retail hours is contingent upon being able to attract and train enough volunteers to sort, price and hang clothing as well as work the donation door and behind the sales counter. For now the hours will remain Mon., Thurs., Sat. 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. and Wed. 3 p.m. - 7 p.m.
“The community is supporting us in a way that makes this move possible,” said Herron.
Volunteers will most likely need to be able to work either a two or four hour shift. With the projected grand opening of the new space planned for Saturday, September 26, finding additional volunteers is a top priority.
“We estimate we will need 12 solid committed volunteers to staff the new thrift store. We only have six at this point. That is a huge need for us. I think once people see the new space, how clean and classy it is, people will be willing to help sort clothes or stand behind the cash register,” predicted Henke.
Henke understands working with a cash register can be intimidating for some people,
“We have an interview process for volunteers so that we can get to know them and see where they would work best. It’s also an opportunity for them to get to know us to make sure this is where they want to volunteer. Having retail experience is valuable because it helps to understand the process and what they’ll be doing,” said Henke.
Both Henke and Herron want potential volunteers to know that these are important jobs essential to fighting hunger in New Richmond, but they are also fun jobs working with other dedicated volunteers in an atmosphere that promotes camaraderie and caring.
In addition to manpower, Henke said the new store also needs an Android capable tablet to help process credit cards as well as additional Z-Racks for displaying clothing and large portable laundry type carts to help transport and sort donations.
Herron hopes to piggyback on the popularity of their new neighbor, the Heritage Center.
“We are excited about being located right next to the Heritage Center. Irv and Mary Sather have a great established business going. We think this will be good for both organizations. People can stop at the barn and if they don’t find what they’re looking for there, stop in at Two Fish and even hit the farmers market on their way out. We want people to shop local and donate local to help feed local families,” said Herron.
In order to make the most of the new space, Henke a veteran retailer with 30 years experience, has devised a color coding system for all of the merchandise. Color coding makes it easy for customers to find the specific type of merchandise they are looking for and can even be used to help promote special sales.
To help with developing and marketing the new store, Herron has enlisted the expertise of Vice-President of Marketing at First National Community Bank Lisa Woletz and the Director of the Small Business Development Center at the University of Wisconsin River Falls Steven DeWald.
Several community organizations and businesses have contributed in significant ways to make this move possible.
“We’ve had lots of help. The American Property Development Group own our new building and they have been incredible to work with. We would not be able to afford to do this if they were not willing to do the build out and give us a great deal on our first years rent. This is their way of helping fight hunger in this community.”
Volunteers from Faith Community Church have provided help cleaning and painting the new space as well as helping install the new floor.
Herron added that United Way St. Croix Valley is providing the rent for the first three months at the new location. Herron’s hoping to enlist financial support to cover the remaining nine months of the first year in order to give the store time to establish in hopes they can manage rent on their own starting in year two.
The store will also be looking for help when it comes time to move into the new building later this summer. Herron and Henke hope to have the new store open by the end of August or early September.
One more thing Herron needs is patience.
“We realize we are not alway as quick and responsive as we want to be or need to be, we understand that. We are asking for the community’s understanding as we sort out our hours and resources. We are all on the same team and everybody is doing the best they can. We trust that our community will continue to support us. History gives us good reason to believe that they will.”
For more information about Two Fish Thrift Store, visit 5loavesfoodandclothing.org.