In Thrift Store, a Recession Success Story

By Beacon Staff

While many retailers have struggled to generate revenue during the economic downturn, thrift stores across the country are thriving.

At Flathead Industries, the recession coincided with a move into a larger and more prominent Kalispell location, a combination of circumstances that has opened up unprecedented business opportunities, such as nonperishable food sales. The organization’s other two thrift stores are in Whitefish and Columbia Falls.

In March, Flathead Industries celebrated the three-year anniversary of its Kalispell thrift store’s move into the former Sportsman & Ski Haus building on the corner of Idaho Street and First Avenue East, just off of Main. Since the move, sales at the store have increased significantly and the store has expanded its offerings, according to Mike Allen, Flathead Industries’ director of business operations.

Last month, the store began offering nonperishable food items, often from surplus inventories at other retailers and “shelf pulls.” The first food shipment “was very successful,” giving Allen reason to believe food will now be a staple product at the thrift store.

“We’ve diversified,” Allen said. “We’re keeping up with the times.”

Donations have remained “very, very steady,” Allen said, and are expected to pick up considerably in the spring, as is the case every year. Spring is also bringing another wrinkle to the local thrift store business environment: the opening of Goodwill in Evergreen. Allen downplayed the notion that Goodwill is a direct competitor and said he hopes the two stores will have a working relationship.

Flathead Industries is a nonprofit organization founded in 1973. It offers vocational rehabilitation, work services and residential services to people with development disabilities. Allen said Flathead Industries employs 110 full-time staff members, plus 80 in work services and more in vocational rehab, making it one of the larger employers in the valley. Many employees work at the thrift stores.

Allen said it is common for organizations serving people with development disabilities to operate thrift stores, as both a source of income and a way to employ its clients. The more money the thrift stores make, Allen said, the more services Flathead Industries can provide to people with development disabilities.

In addition to its three thrift stores, Flathead Industries also provides management services by contract to thrift stores in Libby, Plains and Thompson Falls.

“The idea behind Flathead Industries is that it’s really the cause, it’s not just the products,” Allen said.

Flathead Industries’ Kalispell thrift store was previously located on Fourth Avenue West North, where the administrative offices are still housed. Since moving in 2008, Allen said it’s not uncommon to see at least 200 shoppers a day. The number of visitors ramps up in the summer.

The store can be seen from both Main and Idaho streets – or U.S. Highway 93 and U.S. Highway 2 – which are Kalispell’s two main arteries. Allen said Highway 93 and Highway 2 are the longest two-lane highways in the U.S.

“It’s the best location on the planet,” he said.

Glacier Thrift is located on Nucleus Avenue in Columbia Falls and Stumptown Thrift can be found on Baker Avenue in Whitefish. The phone numbers to those two stores are 892-4849 and 862-5221. The Kalispell thrift store can be reached at 755-3842.

For more information on store hours, donating and other questions about Flathead Industries, visit www.flatheadindustries.org.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.