Cook County News Herald

First & Second Thrift Store is homeless



Life can change in an instant, as volunteers at the First & Second Thrift Store learned early this month. The Cobblestone Building has been purchased by the Voyageur Brewing Company, leaving the store homeless. First & Second will close on December 31st, and everything will be put in storage until they have a new home. October 15th was the last day they accepted donations, but they’d like people to store their like-new cast-offs until they reopen, hopefully this spring.

Unfortunately, there is no building currently available for the store’s relocation. The back of the Birchbark building will be available in May, but that space has only alley access and would cost over twice what the store is currently paying.

The Cook County Council on Aging, which currently manages finances for the business, is terminating that relationship as of December 31st. They plan to focus their energies on the HUB and the senior meal program. First & Second will re-establish itself as an independent nonprofit in the coming months. “We need board members, an accountant, and a philanthropist willing to provide a building or purchase one for us to rent, like Sven & Ole’s,” said winter manager Ann Marie Mershon. “This transition is a challenge, but we’ll get through it.”

“We’ll do what we can to help with the transition,” said Voyageur CFO Mike Prom. “We purchased the building for storage. We’re growing and need the space to prepare for our spring brewing,” said Prom. He suggested renting a shipping container for storage until the store has a new home. He also suggested paying a school team to help with the labor, as most store volunteers are older women.

Lois Johnson started First & Second in 2007 with Arvis Thompson, Sharon Bloomquist, and others. Their intent was to keep things out of the landfill, to provide quality items for the community at a reasonable price, and to donate all their income to local non-profits. It’s been a successful venture; they’ve donated over $840,000 to local organizations. Last year’s donations totaled over $111,000.

“It’s been a wonderful experience for the community!” Lois said about the store. “Just think of all we have accomplished in 15 years. It has been a win-win for all. What a wonderful crew of volunteers we’ve had! This change is difficult, but maybe things will work out even better for us.”

First & Second currently has 45 volunteers, who choose which non-profits receive the benefit of their efforts. Each year’s profit is divided by the number of work hours, which was $22.50 an hour in 2021.

If anyone has suggestions for either storage or a new location, please call the store at 218-387-1826 and leave a message with the clerk. You can also contact Ann Marie Mershon,

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