MRCI Thrift Shop closing after losing money, volunteers, staff

Tim Krohn, The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.
·4 min read

Apr. 15—MANKATO — Linda Bristol has given a lot of items to the MRCI Thrift Shop over the years but jokes that she may have bought more items than she donated.

"I shop here a lot. It's kind of fun to come to these stores and find a little something. It's a very nice store and I find bargains."

She was saddened by the recent news that the thrift shop, which began in 1964, is closing its doors for good at the end of the month as it has been unable to find volunteers and seen revenues crash.

"I'm sad it's closing. I like that MRCI is from here and the money stayed here," Bristol said.

Becky Rossow saw the decline of volunteers during the 20 years she worked and volunteered at the shop.

"When I started, we had about 130 volunteers. In 2019 we had 40."

She started as an assistant manager in 1999 and then went to volunteering in 2004 after her daughter was born.

"I loved being there. I liked the people we worked with. And I did books, sorted them out. I love books."

She brought her daughter with in a baby carrier, and as she grew, she also began helping at the store. "At first she'd sit on the counter and take a couple of books out and then later she was pushing carts of books."

The two volunteered every Monday.

Rossow said the announcement of the closing hit her hard. "I'm very sad to see it close."

Judi and David Kelley were in the store shopping for a chest of drawers and said they, too, have donated a lot of items over the years.

"We shop here quite often. We love our bargains," Judi said. "The building is beautiful now. It's very neat."

David said they visit the MRCI store and other thrift shops, usually with something they need in mind. "We buy some stuff we're not looking for, too."

Losing money

Brian Benshoof, CEO of MRCI Workforce, said the decision to close the shop was tough but driven by declining revenue, a dearth of volunteers and difficulty finding paid staff.

While the pandemic heightened the problems, he said the issues challenging the shop will continue into the future.

"We really lost profitability the past three years. Last year we actually lost money. The mission of the store was always to raise money for services for our clients."

The store has always relied on volunteers, and as they got older, the shop had more difficulty finding new volunteers.

They were also finding it increasingly difficult to find paid staff.

"We're in a labor shortage in Minnesota. We raised our pay but reached that point where we couldn't find enough staff."

Benshoof said competition from a growing list of thrift stores in Mankato also added to overhead. "I count seven thrift stores in Mankato. To compete we had to be open nights, open longer hours." That, he said, required more paid and volunteer staff.

He said the pandemic forced the store to close for several months. Even when businesses were allowed to reopen, the thrift shop didn't have volunteers. "Many of our volunteers couldn't come in because of their age, and we lost some staff."

Benshoof said he's proud of all the volunteers and the community for supporting the shop for decades.

"We're very grateful to the community for all their support over the years. We've always had strong support and we appreciate it."

He said MRCI is strong and growing. "We have a lot of great things going at MRCI. We're rolling out new programs and are very strong."

They will sell the thrift store building, as well as a building next door that MRCI bought to serve as a donation-processing center.

The MRCI Thrift Shop in New Ulm will remain open.

The thrift shops sell new and used donated clothing and household items in support of MRCI, one of Minnesota's largest and most diverse providers of employment and day services for people with disabilities.

The first shop was opened in downtown Mankato in 1964 on Front Street, across from Pub 500. In the early 1990s the growing operation built a new store at its current hilltop location.