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Therese Perro and Sandy Wills, inside the Re-Use-It Thrift Store in Perham. Marie Nitke/FOCUS

Re-Use-It Thrift Store celebrates one year

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The Re-Use-It Thrift Store in Perham has accomplished - and accumulated - an awful lot in one year.

The nonprofit organization, begun as a means of financial support for the Perham Area Boys and Girls Club, is now bursting at the seams with donated appliances, home furnishings, decorations, electronics, clothing and pretty much anything else a person could ever need - including the occasional bike, car or boat.

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And not just the store itself is packed - there's also a big backroom and a warehouse across the street that are filled to the brim with donated goods.

Every item is a tangible testament to the great response the store has received from the community.

"It's going really well," said manager Therese Perro. "Things have been successful."

In an interview with Perro and store merchandiser Sandy Wills, the two said the outpouring of donations is only the half of it. The other half includes the store's 11 volunteers, who spend a combined total of 120 hours a month loading and unloading trucks, stocking shelves, helping customers and more. Then, of course, there are the store's faithful shoppers - the regular "bargain hunters," Wills calls them.

These and other shoppers have bought up 35,000 items from the Re-Use-It Thrift Store over the last year, Perro said. Most of those items have been recycled into new households, keeping perfectly usable things out of landfills. Since opening, the thrift store has spared 755 appliances from the dumpster, along with 85 TVs, piles of clothing, countless housewares and much more.

Thanks in large part to the community support, Re-Use-It Thrift Store reported its first profit last month, and expects to make a profit again this month - that's better than most new businesses, which take an average of three years to turn a profit.

As much as the community is supportive of the thrift store, the thrift store is supportive of the community.

Not only does the store raise money for the Boys and Girls Club, it also helps families in need by offering discounted goods through Calvary Lutheran Church's Outreach program, the local Kinship program and other community service groups.

Store staff also works with the Perham Fire Department to find items for their staged home burns.

In addition, Perro and Wills work with youth volunteers to help them earn store credit and build job skills. If they make a positive impression, Wills said, the young volunteers will get a good reference from her and Perro. And many of them use their store credit to buy things for their families.

The Re-Use-It Thrift Store has also partnered with Otter Tail County to provide an avenue for people - especially youth - to complete their community service hours.

Jeff Gontarek, the community service specialist for Otter Tail County Probation, said the arrangement has worked out well for all involved - the people, the county and the thrift store.

"It's a learning experience for everyone who works there," he said. "The youth are getting some business skills. And I just love that Therese and Sandy do a really good job with the kids. They're good role models for the people that go there."

The thrift store is one of a few places in Perham that offers a route for community service hours. The program is set up as a way to help people work off their court-ordered fines, while showing probation officers and the community a willingness to work and change their behaviors.

The partnership with Re-Use-It Thrift Store, Gontarek said, started after he stopped in one day to do a little shopping. He came back and talked to Perro, who expressed interest in the idea, as it meant more helping hands for her.

"So we tried it and it's worked really well. We've had a great success rate with the store," Gontarek said.

The Re-Use-It Thrift Store will be celebrating its one-year anniversary with a big sale on Friday, May 11 from 9 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. and Saturday, May 12 from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Hot dogs, chips and beverages will be served, and things will be priced to move.

The thrift store is a nonprofit organization; all proceeds from the store go to the Boys and Girls Club, which is also celebrating its one-year anniversary this May. All donations are tax deductible.

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