Thrift Store Treasures: Sifting through the hidden gems of Routt County’s thrift shops
Steamboat Springs — Betty Dickey looks at the floor and shakes her head when asked to describe the typical customer who walks through the doors of her Steamboat Springs thrift shop located along Highway U.S. 40 west of town.
“You never know who will walk through that door,” said Dickey, who owns the Bargain Barn. “I don’t think we have a typical customer. . .we have a real strong base of people who come in every week, but we also get a lot of tourists.”
Thrift Shop Challenge
In the true spirit of thrift shopping, the Steamboat Pilot & Today news team set out on a mission to see what treasures they could unearth at area second-hand stores. Each staff member was given $10 and then were challenged to comb local thrift shops in search of one-of-a-kind items. Their thrift shop finds are highlighted below, and we’re asking readers to vote at http://goo.gl/qR8JEo for their favorite bargain.
She said her customers come from all walks of life, and she never knows what they’ll be looking to buy. On this day, she had requests that ranged from a VHS players to seashells. But Dickey said it is easy to see that the people who shop at local thrift stores are driven by a common desire to find a bargain.
“I try to go thrift store shopping at least once a week,” said customer Linda Poissant as she browsed the used books at LIFT-UP of Routt County’s community thrift shop. “I just want to get that bargain. I love garage sales, but since they are not available in the wintertime, I definitely have to hit the thrift stores to get that fix. It’s a good feeling when you find that treasure that you can’t find anywhere else. It’s the worst case of impulse buying.”
Rose Adkins, owner of Rummagers in downtown Steamboat Springs, also has seen a wide range of people shopping in her store in the past 14 years.
“We’ve just kept it thrifty, so we can meet everybody’s need,” Adkins said. “We offer recycled goods at an affordable price for everyone. We want to make it happen for people who don’t have as much, and you can really find some good stuff.”
Adkins said she started her business because she saw a need in the community. She said the thrift store is a place where used items find new life.
“It helps low income families…people need stuff they can’t afford new,” Adkins said.
Whenever possible, Adkins said she does her best to help families get what they need at a reasonable price — normally more than half what an item might cost new.
But other shoppers come to her store looking to find something they can’t get anywhere else.
“We have the tourist, and we have the locals,” Adkins said. “There are people who seek out thrift store shopping, and they always find good stuff.”
A thrift store also is a place where people can donate items they no longer need, and the stores are dependent on donations from the community.
“People are so wonderful,” Dickey said. “That’s how we make it work. Without our customers and our donators we would not be in business.”
In 2014, the LIFT-UP community thrift store generated a profit of almost $190,000.
Giving back to the community
But unlike the other thrift stores in the area, LIFT-UP is about more than just making money. Funds raised through the store are used to support the community food bank and to help pay utility bills, rent and emergency medical expenses for low-income families and people in financial need.
“The revenue from the thrift store supports our mission,” LIFT-UP Executive Director Laura Schmidt said.
The store operates much like the other thrift stores in Routt County. The store’s inventory comes from community donations, which are carefully sorted to ensure the items meet certain quality standards. Items that don’t make the cut are donated to the New Horizons Mennonite mission in Canon City and Pueblo.
“Nothing is thrown away,” said Deborah Improta Welch, who has served as the thrift store’s manager for 11 years. “Our goal is to recycle everything that comes through our doors, and we try to get it to the people who need it.”
Improta Welch started working at the store as a part-time cashier when it was located on Oak Street. Since then, the store has grown in size and its role in the community has widened.
“I always loved shopping in thrift stores as a child,” Improta Welch said. “I did that with my friends when I was a kid where I grew up. My parents could not afford to go shopping at the mall, but my sister and I always wanted the name brand fashions. My mom found a way to afford those items for us in the thrift store.”
These days, Improta Welch is working to make sure the LIFT-UP community thrift store offers those same opportunities to Routt County families.
“There are certain name brand items that are always in high demand,” Improta Welch said. “High-end kitchen items, and gadgets are also big sellers.”
She said the store also gets lots of jewelry and unusual artwork donated as well as those rare collectables that always seem to move quickly.
“The unique items that I’ve seen come through here (are) pretty endless,” Improta Welch said. “I think things become unique when people are telling me about them at the counter.”
She also is inspired by people who come to her store looking for items the can use in other projects.
“We get piles of ties,” Improta Welch said. “We sell them for a buck apiece. We don’t sell a whole lot of ties because nobody in Steamboat wears ties. But there are people who will take ties and make other projects out of them. We have a whole lot of reinventing taking place here.”
Improta Welch said it’s not unusual to have someone come in and find an item that brings back childhood memories or special feelings from the past.
“They will come to the counter and say, ‘I had one of these, or I knew somebody who had one of these,’” Improta Welch said. “You see some really neat things like that. Who knows where it came from and how it appeared at our thrift store? We certainly look at that kind of thing as a unique opportunity to pass that on to someone who can appreciate it.”
Drive down Main Street in Oak Creek and chances are you will notice the Brand Spankin’ Used thrift store, or at least its life-sized mascot Shanaynay.
On most days, the mannequin, whose outfit changes on a daily basis, can be seen standing in the middle of the street in front of the business inviting people into the store to have a look around.
Inside, shoppers will find more than 2,500 square feet of space filled with men’s, women’s and children’s clothing, home goods, toys and lots and lots of sporting goods.
“Our goal is to reuse and repurpose,” owner Janine Pierce said. “I’m overwhelmed by what people give away. We are incredibly blessed.”
The store has been a staple in Oak Creek for more than a decade, and thanks to the community’s generosity, its inventory changes every week, and sometimes, every day.
“Most days, we have so much coming in the door that it’s pretty easy to put a fresh face on the store,” Pierce said. “Things that don’t sell go down to bigger cities where there is more need.”
Employee Chelsea Babb said the store is a place where people can shop and find bargains. But she thinks it fills a bigger role in a small town like Oak Creek.
“It’s a community-gathering place,” Babb said. “People will come here a couple times a week just to see what we have that’s new.”
“You never know what’s coming in the back door, and I’m rarely surprised by what we get,” Pierce added.
Over the years, there have been a few donations that have caught Pierce off guard.
Once, a customer donated a purple velveteen box along with several other donations. The person who made the donation didn’t realize that the box held the ashes of their pet.
Pierce noticed the box had the pet’s name on the outside, and she realized that it had been donated by mistake. She contacted the owners and returned the box before it was sold to an unsuspecting buyer.
“Luckily, we were able to resolve the problem before it became an issue,” Pierce said. “That’s the great thing about living (in) and running a business in a small town.”
Filling a niche
Sales clerk Gillis David has seen a lot of stuff come through the doors of Rummagers thrift store since she started working there in September.
“It’s unpredictable,” David said. “I thought that telescope would walk out the door really quickly, but it hasn’t. I had a toboggan come in, and it was gone the next day.”
She has learned that quality ski boots are fast movers along with snow pants and goggles. She also knows that there are some items, like a first edition Star Fleet technical manual that are waiting for just the right customer.
The thrift store, now located on 11th Street, has become a fixture in downtown Steamboat Springs.
“I’ve been the longest ongoing thrift store in Steamboat Springs,” owner Rose Adkins said. “Our goal is to offer recycled goods at an affordable price for everyone.”
Fourteen years ago, opened Rummagers near Alpine Lumber with business partner Karen Rhoads. Adkins had the capital to support the store but lacked the time and experience to step into the thrift store business.
A few years later, after her children were grown, Adkins joined the business full-time and has enjoyed filling a niche she felt was missing in our ski town.
“I saw a real need for a thrift store in our community,” Adkins said.
Last week, tourist Debbie Sienkowski took a break from her vacation to flip through the racks at Rummagers. Her husband skis, but she doesn’t, so she decided to spend part of her day looking for cowboy shirts for a nephew who lives in Hawaii and plays in a country-western band.
“I don’t want to spend too much money, so I decided to check out the thrift stores to see what they had,” Sienkowski said. “I found one at the Bargain Barn, and this looks pretty promising.”
Adkins said it’s common for tourists to visit her store in summer and winter. She also has a loyal following of local shoppers.
“I love this business because you never know what’s going to come in the door,” Adkins said.
Among the most interesting items were a bird and an aquarium with geckos. Adkins said she doesn’t normally accept pets, but in these cases she made exceptions.
“Those might have been the strangest things I’ve had donated,” Adkins said.
Adkins said the times have changed for thrift store operators, but the role her store plays in the community is just as important today as it was when she first started.
“People need to get rid of the stuff in their garage and other people can get it at an affordable price,” Adkins said. “Our store services a base for low-income people to get what they are looking for. I’m impressed with how many people really need stuff…for that reason, I would want to always keep the store going to service the community.”
In search of treasure
Bargain Barn owner Betty Dickey never knows what will come through the doors of the thrift shop she opened more than four years ago.
“Every single bag or box is different, and everything has something behind it… it’s amazing what people put in a box and bring to you,” Dickey said as she greeted customers by name. “You can’t help but wonder where did they get it? It’s like a story every time you open up a box.
Dickey carries a wide array of items in her store, including a large supply of clothing, books and household goods. When asked what is the most unique item she’s ever sold in her store, Dickey has trouble settling on just one.
“There are too many to even think about,” Dickey said.
But her employee, Morgan Drenon has no problem rattling off a long list of treasures including a Navajo rug, a hat made of coyote fur and a Haviland China tea set worth more than a $1,000 — until the store cat knocked over one of the cups and broke it. Dickey said the value of the set dropped quickly after that, but she still keeps the cat around the store, anyway.
An admitted shop-a-holic herself, Dickey loves being in the thrift store business.
These days she doesn’t shop as much but loves opening the boxes of items that come into her store. She said she enjoys setting up displays and helping her customers find the treasure they were searching for when they walked through the doors.
“I’m always looking for treasures,” Dickey said. “But these days people give it to me, and I get to put it out and sell it.”
What’s new in Phippsburg?
Seasoned thrift shoppers in the Yampa Valley know that if they are passing through Phippsburg on a Thursday, it’s worthwhile to stop and ask, what’s new?
The What’s New thrift shop, now located in a church building at Third and Pine streets, has been operating in Phippsburg since the 1960s.
Each week, a crew of about seven volunteers from the Phippsburg Community Club show up on Thursday to sort donations and make sales. The store is only open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays, and according to volunteer Louise Iacovetto, it offers just about everything under the sun.
“We get a little bit of everything,” Iacovetto said. “We don’t accept the big things because we are an old, broke-down crew. We need to get some younger people involved.”
The sales from the store support a number of different causes in the town of Phippsburg, which is unincorporated. The money pays for the town’s streetlights and is used to maintain the park. It also helps pay for the Phippsburg fire and ambulance, and donations are made to the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association and the senior care center in Oak Creek when possible.
Volunteer Verna Whaley said the store gets all kinds of donations each week including lots of clothing, pots and pans, dishes and furniture.
Whaley admits there are times when she is stumped by the items people donate to the thrift store.
“Sometimes, we just don’t know what things are,” Whaley said. “It makes for some pretty good laughs.”
But the store also has a serious side. A few months ago when the Royal Hotel burned to the ground the store opened its doors to the people who lived there and who lost everything.
“We let them pick out whatever they needed,” Whaley said. “That’s why we are here. We just want to be a good neighbor.” ■
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