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Helmut Schmidt, Published December 28 2012

Secondhand stores deal with flood of gifts from Christmases past

FARGO – By the back wall of The Arc of Cass County thrift store, a big green inflatable Christmas tree sat, its blower quietly chuffing away as it cycled a pop-up Santa up and down.

With a week to go before Christmas, if it didn’t fly out the door, it would be a shame, said employees and volunteers at the North University Drive store.

Five minutes later, Santa had left the building.

“Everything holiday goes fast,” store manager Val Nedrebo said. “It’s crazy.”

With the gifts of Christmas Present here, thrift stores are seeing a flood of donations from people clearing out the gifts of Christmas Past.

At the Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch store on 32nd Avenue South in Fargo, the pile was twice the height of a man just before Christmas

But with eight thrift stores to keep filled, including two in Fargo, one in West Fargo and one in Dilworth, the Boys and Girls Ranch whittles those piles down quickly.

The Dilworth store sold 33,000 items in October, while the Fargo 32nd Avenue South store sold 29,000 items in November, says Lisa Olson, vice president of retail operations.

Store sales bring in $1.2 million annually for the Boys and Girls Ranch, which provides therapy and mental health services for young people and their families, Olson said. Some of the organization’s sales also pay operation expenses, including wages for some paid employees.

The Arc of Cass County sells at least 30,000 items per month between its north and south Fargo stores, said Executive Director Janell Ness.

The nonprofit is on track to post $776,000 in sales this year. Of that, 31 percent, or $237,465, will go to programs to help people with developmental disabilities, Ness said.

Some items tossed

Despite the considerable sales, not everything given to the stores makes the shelves, managers said.

As much as 20 percent of donations may be tossed, said Arc spokeswoman Kati Nelson.

Olson understands why some people worry their former belongings might be landfilled because people develop an attachment to them after years of ownership.

But Arc and Boys Ranch managers said the stores have gotten clothing with blood on it, or bags of items smelling of urine.

Other items are threadbare or broken.

A good guideline to determining whether to donate something is to decide if you’d buy the item in a thrift store, said Boys Ranch spokeswoman Carla Trittin Isom. If you wouldn’t, then it may be better if you disposed of it in another way, she said.

Cribs made before July 2010 can’t be resold because of Consumer Product Safety Commission rules, so they must be tossed. The stores are also unable to accept any child car seats.

Some clothing and footwear may be saleable, but stores may have too much to sell quickly. The leftovers are sold to clothing resellers by both non-profits.

Metals are recycled through scrap dealers.

The Arc also sells items on Craigslist, Nedrebo said.

The Boys Ranch, meanwhile, warehouses some items to cover the February, March and April donation lull and to better meet seasonal demands.

Tough calls

Mattresses that are soiled or torn must be tossed, but those that are made in 2007 or later and are in good shape can make the sales floor, thrift store managers said.

Televisions are a plus or a minus.

Older cathode ray tube models are not fast sellers because many consumers prefer flat-screen models.

But TVs made in 2005 or newer with three input jacks to handle modern DVD payers or gaming consoles do make the sales floor if they don’t need repairs.

Broken TVs cost thrift stores money because the nonprofit groups have to pay to dispose of them, Olson and Nelson said.

All books, videos and video games are checked at the Boys Ranch to be sure they are appropriate for sale to the general public, Olson said.

The next few weeks will be busy, thrift store managers said.

Things will boom again at the end of April, as a three-month tidal wave of clothing, furniture and knick-knacks comes in at the close of garage sales, they said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

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