- Associated Press - Saturday, April 26, 2014

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - While many big merchants are struggling to sustain their sales, one of the fastest growing retailers in Minnesota is a nonprofit.

Sales at the thrift stores of Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota have been soaring thanks to a surge in the opening of new stores beyond the urban core. Goodwill even has a store next to a Maserati dealership in Minnetonka.

Consumers’ growing frugality is also boosting sales.

In the past three years, Goodwill’s retail sales have jumped about 75 percent to $67 million, a growth rate any business executive would be happy to brag about, Minnesota Public Radio (http://bit.ly/1jBahtd ) reported.

In St. Louis Park, Goodwill’s Second Debut, caters to people shopping for goods from upscale brands. Inside, chandeliers hang from the ceiling, the floors are wood laminate, and the feel is full-price retail.

Leona Adams of Chicago was in town recently for a conference when she walked into the store.

“I thought I was in a boutique,” she said. “Very nice. I was impressed. Pricing is good. It’s excellent quality.”

Second Debut carries men’s and women’s clothing, shoes and jewelry from high-end designers.

“Ralph Lauren, Polo, Chico and Ann Taylor and then we go all the way up to the fashion houses in Paris and Italy,” said Cynthia Courtney, who manages the shop.

Courtney said everything is inspected for any flaws or stains and mended as needed - then priced at a quarter or third of the original price.

We put out 200-300 units a day,” she said. “So, it’s new stuff every day. Within a month’s time, if it’s still here, it goes down 25 percent.”

Still, Second Debut is the exception for Goodwill. Its typical outlet is like the 17,600-square-foot store off Highway 100 in St. Louis Park, with its fluorescent lights and vinyl tile flooring. The store offers the usual eclectic mix of clothing, furniture, small appliances, housewares and other goods.

Michael Wirth-Davis, CEO of Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota, said sales at Goodwill stores provide about 85 percent of the charity’s revenue.

“The goal is to sell things, yes,” he said. “But it’s why we’re selling things. And that’s to produce revenue to provide services and programs for a wide variety of folks who are trying get work, keep work and advance in their careers.”

The demand for such services is growing. In 2013, the organization provided employment and job-training services to more than 30,000 people.

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