Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Cook's thrift shop benefits the hospital and care center

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COOK— For hundreds of residents in the Cook area and beyond, the hunt for treasure starts Thursday morning at 9 a.m. sharp. That’s when the volunteers at the Cook Hospital Thrift Shop throw open the doors, usually to a crowd already waiting to get in.

The thrift shop, which has operated at its current location at 320 3rd St. SE in Cook since 2004, has become something of a phenomenon here, attracting literally hundreds of shoppers during the limited number of days that they’re open each week.

“It’s definitely a hopping place,” said Kirsten Reichel, who serves as president of the Cook Area Healthcare Auxiliary, which operates the thrift store as a fundraiser for the local hospital, senior care center, and even scholarships for local students who plan to pursue careers in the medical field.

The churn of customers and the never-ending supply of donated clothing, housewares, toys, and more, is almost stunning, and it’s that constant changeover of merchandise, and the rock bottom prices, that attracts so many shoppers. Most items of clothing are just one dollar and the store often has bag-day specials where you can fill a bag of items for just a few dollars.

Which makes it a great place to keep a couple of kids entertained. Tammy Palmer, of Cook, was trying to help little Casen Palmer and Hannah Fox, of Britt, as they explored the toy and kids clothes sections of the store this past Friday. Casen had found a bendable horn and was running around the store sounding a bit like a roaring elephant. “They just love to come here and find a little treasure,” said Palmer, as she held up a shirt next to Hannah, who was being distracted by Casen’s antics.

Hannah and Casen aren’t alone. Debbie Tester, of St. Louis Park, was shopping for clothes. She and her husband have a cabin on Vermilion and the thrift store has become a regular part of their trips up north. Jerry and Cindy Myre had come over from Isle of Pines on Lake Vermilion to make their regular rounds at the store. Cindy, who loves to turn old things into something new and creative, said she does a lot of her shopping at the store. “It’s always stuffed full,” Cindy said, especially this time of year when a lot of cabin owners are closing up for the year and trying to clear out some of the clothes and other gear that have accumulated over the summer.

The flow of items from the lake ensures not only a steady supply of merchandise, but that some of it is going to be high-end stuff, sold for next to nothing. Those are the kind of finds, said Cindy, that keep many shoppers coming back regularly. And many of those shoppers could certainly afford to shop elsewhere. A couple of Fridays ago, there were both a Cadillac and a Mercedes parked in the lot outside, as if one needed any more evidence that this is not your average thrift store. Shopping here is practically a social event.

Given the traffic and volume of sales, the thrift store has become a significant source of financial support for the Cook-area healthcare facilities. The auxiliary owns the building and volunteers manage and staff the store, plow the parking lot in winter, and handle most of the building maintenance. That allows the store to direct the vast majority of their sales to donations, which average between $56,000-$60,000 annually, according to Reichel.

The hospital regularly forwards its wish list, which can include everything from new beds, to lifting equipment, to garden supplies in the spring. “It varies from one end of the spectrum to the other,” said Reichel. “We’ve never turned anything down that I can remember.”

The store also provides a source of clothes and household items for local families in the event of fire or some other similar emergency.

It’s that community-inspired mission that keeps the volunteers turning out each week. “When I’m done at the end of the day, I feel so good,” said Barb Boutto, who was working at the shop last Friday with Rhonda Joki and Julie Hippe.

Reichel said she’s always amazed at the work done by their volunteers. “It’s an amazing group of ladies,” she said. “The store seems to magically run itself.”Of course, new volunteers are always needed, notes Reichel, since most of the volunteers are, well, not exactly spring chickens anymore.

If you’d like to check it out, the store is open Thursdays, Fridays, and the second and fourth Saturdays of every month, from 9-3 p.m. Most regulars will tell you that Thursday is the best day to shop, since that’s when you get your first crack at the newest additions to the shelves, which are restocked each week ahead of Thursday’s opening.

You can also drop off clean and gently-used items whenever volunteers are at the store (Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursday, Fridays, and the second and fourth Saturday from 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. The store does not accept TVs or other large electronics or large furniture.

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