Treasure Trove of Hope
Hope Gospel Mission Bargain Center funds community support programs
More than 150,000 items move through the Hope Gospel Bargain Center (2511 Moholt Drive, Eau Claire) every month. That’s a lot of stuff, even for what they call the biggest thrift store in the Midwest. “We get Grandma’s basement dumped on us 10 times a day,” said Craig Pedersen, the Hope Gospel operations director who oversees the day-to-day activities of the nonprofit organization’s stores, auto donation program, and program facilities at Hope Gospel Mission. Lucky for shoppers, Grandma’s basement is full of treasures.
“We want people to come in here and think it’s a beautifully displayed store, it’s a boutique, it’s a shopping adventure.” – Craig Peterson, Hope Gospel Mission Bargain Center
“We want to give customers that full retail experience at thrift prices,” Craig said. So while the store is home to an eclectic mixture of furniture, kitchenware, craft supplies, clothing, jewelry, and other home goods, it’s carefully laid out to display what people want, where they expect it, and in a way that looks polished. In autumn, one might find a selection of high-quality leather jackets steps from the entrance, or a rack of safety orange and wool camouflage just in time for hunting season. In the spring, the store greets guests with the glitter of formal dresses.
“We want people to come in here and think it’s a beautifully displayed store, it’s a boutique, it’s a shopping adventure,” Craig said. “We don’t set our sites on looking or acting like a thrift store – we want this to be an amazing experience when people come in.”
While big-box retail stores continue to decline, thrift shopping is on the rise. People want to find things, people want to touch the products they’re buying, and people want to be around others while they search, Craig said. It’s not uncommon to step out of a dressing room for your shopping companion and be greeted by helpful comments from other treasure hunters. And of course, a stellar staff is there to help find goodies, load furniture into your vehicle, and ring you up at the register.
“We see lives transformed while we’re tagging clothes in the back room, while we’re carrying a couch to the customer,” Craig said. While Hope Gospel aims to make up 50% of their labor with volunteers, many of the staff unloading donations, sorting through materials, and stocking the floor are members of Hope’s various support programs for struggling men and women. Hope Gospel’s shelters, education programs, work-training programs, and auto donation programs are more than 70% funded through money generated by the Bargain Centers in Eau Claire, Mondovi, and Menomonie and the Building Hope building material and office furniture re-use store in Eau Claire.
While the chance to find great furniture, clothing, and more at affordable prices keeps customers coming back on a monthly, or even weekly basis, “the ‘why,’ (of impacting the lives of those in need) is what we want people to know about,” Craig said.