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Superior's Salvation Army Thrift store seeks community support to continue

To keep its doors open, the thrift store at 1705 Belknap St. has to at least break even. Employees are spreading the word.

Salvation Army Thrift Store manager Paula Cummings works on a display near the front window of the store
Salvation Army Thrift Store manager Paula Cummings works on a display near the front window of the store Friday, Sept. 23, on Belknap Street in Superior.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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SUPERIOR — The Salvation Army Thrift Store in Superior is still open for business. How long it stays that way depends on local support.

The Salvation Army Thrift Store in Duluth closed its doors July 1.

Salvation Army Thrift Store employee Nancy Cox places a pair of high heels on a rack
Salvation Army Thrift Store employee Nancy Cox places a pair of high heels on a rack in the store Friday, Sept. 23, on Belknap Street in Superior.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

“At this point, our goal is to try and turn things around and get more business going, so we don’t end up in that same predicament,” said Captain Jasen Elcombe with the Salvation Army of Superior. “The reality is that if things don’t turn around, we could be facing closure.”

To keep its doors open, the thrift store at 1705 Belknap St. has to at least break even. Employees are spreading the word.

“We just really need people to know we’re here and we’re here for the community,” said manager Paula Cummings.

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For a while, she said, they were emulating other shops in the area and raising prices. That has changed.

“We are going back to our Salvation Army roots,” Cummings said.

A mother of five, Cummings depended on rummage sales and thrift stores to clothe her children when they were young. She wants to ensure the Salvation Army continues to provide those resources to families.

“We’re going to be doing what we can to have the lowest thrift store prices in the Twin Ports, new stuff daily on the sales floor,” Elcombe said.

Visitors can find baby clothes for $1.99, dishes for $1 or less and blankets for up to $5. Most clothing is priced under $10. For an even better deal, seniors can get a 25% discount on everything in the store on Tuesdays; college students get that same discount on Wednesdays, while veterans get it on Thursdays. Specials and sales also pop up, often advertised on The Superior Salvation Army Family Store Facebook page .

Even the store’s layout has changed, with wider aisles between the new racks and tables.

Lower prices fit the needs of the community, Cummings said, but the shop’s future hinges on bringing more shoppers into the store.

“Our clientele that come in here are mostly 55 and older, OK? That’s not going to be able to sustain a store,” Cummings said, particularly since many older residents live on a fixed income. “But if we could get more of the 55 and younger community in here, we could possibly even boom instead of drown.”

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Donations have remained steady at the store and can be dropped off during store hours. Donors are encouraged to call ahead, 715-394-5331, before dropping items off. The items should be clean and in good repair. Clothing, in particular, is needed.

Series of setbacks

The thrift store is seeking to recover from a series of setbacks.

Paula Cummings, the manager of the Salvation Army Thrift Store in Superior, brings in a box of donations
Paula Cummings, the manager of the Salvation Army Thrift Store in Superior, brings in a box of donations Friday, Sept. 23.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

“It started back when they had the construction project on Belknap because we lost our regulars at that time,” Elcombe said. “And then just after that, we started kind of rebuilding things up and then COVID hit and we had to close our doors.”

Staffing has shrunk from seven to four. The more volunteers and business they get, Cummings said, the more likely the store is to open another hour per day, another day per week. The store is currently open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Prior to the pandemic, the store was not only sustaining itself, but giving back to the community, Cummings said.

Everything donated to the store stays local, she stressed, and any profit made goes directly into supporting community services and programs like the Salvation Army food pantry, rental and utility assistance, bus vouchers and gas cards.

Paid volunteer work

The nonprofit is looking to partner with the federal Senior Community Service Employment Program to increase the number of volunteers at the thrift store. The program, which is managed by Service-Employment-Redevelopment (SER) National in Wisconsin, pays low income individuals age 55 and older who volunteer with nonprofit organizations or government agencies. Funded through the U.S. Department of Labor, the program pays volunteers $12 an hour and covers workers compensation costs for them; host organizations provide on-the-job training.

“It feels so good to be able to give these people a little … I mean $12 an hour certainly can change a life versus just living off of Social Security,” said Tom Kunz, employment and training specialist with SER National.

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The federal program dates back to 1965. It currently pays volunteers for up to 28 hours per week, but Kunz said that number fluctuates. Volunteer workers can be involved in the federal program for a maximum of four years over their lifetime, with the end goal of transitioning them into the workforce.

Kunz currently manages 20 counties in Wisconsin and oversees 65 volunteers, including one at the Douglas County Historical Society. Kunz is meeting Sept. 27 with a new volunteer slated to begin staffing the Imogene McGrath Memorial Library in Lake Nebagamon.

Learn more about the Senior Community Service Employment Program online , by calling Kunz at 805-390-1614 or during an open house at the Superior Job Center, 1805 N. 14th St., from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 28.

Nancy Cox, an employee at the Salvation Army Thrift Store in Superior, adds plates to the dishes section
Nancy Cox, an employee at the Salvation Army Thrift Store in Superior, adds plates to the dishes section of the store Friday, Sept. 23.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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