Non-profit LIFT-UP’s thrift store in Steamboat to double in size on strength of women’s clothing sales |

Non-profit LIFT-UP’s thrift store in Steamboat to double in size on strength of women’s clothing sales

— A decade after it launched a $1 million-plus capital campaign to build its 8,100 square-foot building on Curve Court in Steamboat Springs, LIFT-UP of Routt County closed Wednesday on the purchase of a next-door commercial building to allow for expansion.

The new building, formerly a mortuary at 2095 Curve Ct., will accommodate a larger food bank for households in need, with modernized equipment to support the increasing emphasis on fresh produce and foods high in protein. Moving the food bank will, in turn, create space for the nonprofit’s increasingly profitable thrift store, LIFT-UP Executive Director Laura Schmidt said.

“The wall will come down between the existing thrift store and the donation center, making it all thrift store, almost doubling in size. Our donation center moves to the northwest corner of the building where the food banks sits now,” Schmidt said.

LIFT-UP was founded in 1996 by the Ministerial Association and continues its mission of providing charitable assistance to Routt County residents in need while promoting personal growth and self-sufficiency. It operates food banks in Hayden and South Routt as well as in Steamboat and served 2,200 people in 2014, which is down from the peak, but still about 10 percent of the county’s population. Support provided by LIFT-UP includes such needs as rent, utility bills and emergency medical expenses.

“This is an exciting period at LIFT-UP, with an emphasis on more nutritious food in the Food Bank, expanded and self-sufficiency programming through Routt to Work,” LIFT-UP Board President Louise Wu was quoted in a prepared statement.

LIFT-UP distributed almost 12,000 food bags in 2014 with a value of $445,000 at a cost of $37,000, meaning the community donated $408,000.

The 2,520-square-foot building that LIFT-UP purchased this week had been listed for sale in the range of $600,000. Listing Realtor Medora Fralick, of The Commercial Property Group, confirmed Wednesday that owners Steve Dawes and Mark McElhinney had donated $62,500 to LIFT-UP at closing. Schmidt said her agency will have a loan balance of $450,000 and undertake a capital campaign to pay that off as soon as possible.

The chance won’t come again

The board and I “asked ourselves, ‘When do we ever have an opportunity to purchase land directly next to us ever again?’” Schmidt said. “We knew we’d have to expand at some point. That would have meant looking at other property and having to sell this (existing) building, and because it’s specialized, it probably would have been on the market for awhile.

The expansion plan will allow LIFT-UP to leverage the success story at its thrift shop, which grossed $371,500 last year and cleared almost $190,000, which, in turn, supported the food bank.

“The food bank is experiencing growing pains, but the revenue is going crazy. It continues to grow year after year with the whole community shopping over there,” Schmidt said. “With the expansion, our financial models project revenue to expand 10 to 25 percent annually.”

Women’s clothing is by far the biggest seller, Schmidt said, but a recent sales analysis for 2014 sales will lead the shop to seek to carry more linens and sporting goods. Soccer cleats and hockey sticks are also hot sellers.

Keeping cool

Schmidt said it’s coincidental that the acquisition of the new building for the food bank arrives at the same time that Routt County Environmental Health is working with LIFT-UP to modernize its refrigeration system with walk-in coolers and freezers.

The food bank currently relies on nine residential-grade refrigerators and freezers to store perishable food, and Routt County Environmental Health’s Heather Savalox has informed Schmidt that LIFT-UP needs to upgrade refrigeration, as well as the system of sinks used to wash fresh produce.

“I had budgeted for a walk-in freezer and refrigerator this year, and this is the perfect opportunity,” Schmidt said. “It was really good timing.”

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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