- Associated Press - Saturday, March 8, 2014

PENDER, Neb. (AP) - Apparently, one should never underestimate the attraction of finding a bargain.

On July 1, a group of enthusiastic volunteers in Pender opened Main Street Thriftique, a nonprofit thrift store set up to donate all earnings back to the community.

The store’s board of directors hoped it would make enough in the first year to donate $5,000 to Pender-area groups.

It turns out their expectations were off - way off.

More than $11,000 has been donated to various organizations and individuals thus far, and the store’s one-year anniversary is still four months away.

“We are where we thought we’d be in five years,” board member Corky Malmberg told the Sioux City Journal (https://bit.ly/MI1Tyr). “We had no idea when we started that we’d be able to give away so much so soon.”

Those worries of whether they’d make enough money to pay the rent the first month or two? Never an issue.

After the rush of organizing, preparing, then opening the store was over, board members realized they were onto something much bigger than they had planned. Donations of items to be sold were dropped off almost daily. Shoppers from Pender and surrounding towns kept coming.

And, most importantly, the profits far exceeded expectations, enabling the Thriftique’s board to help more and more people.

“Once we finally were able to take a breath, we realized this is huge,” board president Carissa Simonsen said.

Simonsen began exploring the possibility of opening the store after she moved back to Pender in 2012 and noticed that neighboring towns of Wakefield and Emerson had similar stores. She asked around to see if anyone else was interested in starting a store in Pender. Soon, seven other women were on board.

“About a million emails later, and we were ready to go,” Simonsen said.

Staying true to the philosophy of finding new uses for older goods, they rented space on the ground floor of the former Pal’ace Hotel, a three-story building on Pender’s main intersection that had been vacant for years. Owners Scott and Katie Darling were willing to help refurbish the space, and after hundreds of volunteer hours spent cleaning, repairing and refurbishing it, the building was once again a viable part of the business district.

It was a whirlwind of activity to get the store organized, Simonsen said, but as the grand opening approached, the eight board members and other volunteers still had no idea how the store would be received by the public.

That question was answered by a flood of customers and donations of clothing, kitchen goods and appliances, small furniture, books and numerous other items. It hasn’t really slowed down, Malmberg said.

“What’s surprised me most is the amount of people we have here shopping,” she said. “We have people begging us to be open more hours.”

The real beneficiaries are those who receive Thriftique grants. Fire departments, church, school and community groups in Pender and Thurston have all received donations. Students who work 80 hours in a year’s time can earn $500 toward a college scholarship for each year worked.

Board members are finding plenty of worthy causes to support in their community.

In turn, the community is supporting the store in a big way.

“Pender has always been a community that just jumps in with both feet. I’m really proud of our community,” board vice president Debbie Christiansen said.

It sounds like everyone has gotten a good bargain.

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