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Shrinking landfills, blessing communities and supporting Christian education

Written on October 16th, 2012

After a difficult period a couple of years ago, when talk of closing actually surfaced, a thrift store in Thunder Bay is having more impact than ever before — and not just on the school its proceeds support.

Twice as Nice opened in 1997, the vision of local resident Ben Postuma who noticed the large amount of bagged clothing in a landfill and thought that could be used for something better.

That something better was opening a thrift store to sell the clothing to offset the costs of education at a local independent, faith-based school, Thunder Bay Christian School.

As more thrift stores popped up in the area in the coming years, Twice as Nice saw competition that made it more and more difficult to justify keeping the entirely volunteer-based operation open.

That is, until a group of investors made a proposal for the non-profit to open in a much larger building in a location that was likely to have a stronger customer base.

This has proved true.

Now operating in the city’s downtown core, Twice as Nice has a large customer following, many of whom visit the store daily.

Given the larger building, it can also sell much more than clothing.

While it’s committed to keeping prices low, and is able to do so with only one staff member and about 100 volunteers per month, Twice as Nice still generates enough proceeds to make a significant contribution to the independent school it continues to support.

Chair of the Twice as Nice committee Dan Breukelman notes the store is now, before costs, making sales upwards of $20,000 per month.

In the former building, it was difficult to gross $1,000 in the same time period.

Last year, the first full year of operation in the new building, Twice as Nice’s contribution to Thunder Bay Christian School was in the range of $100,000.

Three months into this fiscal year, it has already been able to generate $45,000 worth of contributions.

Breukelman describes the whole operation as a “give give situation.”

Between the donation of items from the local community and hundreds of volunteer hours, both the families who are looking for a different kind of education for their children and the local community are receiving. Tuition can be kept at a more manageable level for families. And in the process people who need less costly clothes and furniture can find them.

Catherine Knight, who manages the store, notes this latter point is especially relevant given a trend amongst other thrift stores, which is to depend more on staff than volunteers, forcing the need for higher prices.

“We try to keep our prices as low as possible while still making money,” she says.

She also describes the operation as a ministry in a way to this part of Thunder Bay, which has a lower-income demographic.

“I think we’re good for the community,” she says.

“We have a lot of community people that come in just about every day, and the volunteers here are happy and chat with them and it’s a good witness.”

Principal Andy Alblas suggests one other benefit to the enterprise, which is reducing the need for many different smaller fundraisers to support the school budget.

“When you know you have a consistent item, every year, I think that’s something any school would love to see on their financial line,” he says.

And then, of course, there is the fact that these thrift store efforts are “green,” making stewardly use of what is available, recycling and reusing.

Talk about an enterprise with a triple bottom line.