Cook County News Herald

What is community? We are losing a lot of it.

Community means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For some, First & Second Thrift Store has been a community for many years. They are being forced to move. The building in which they have been housed for the past 14 years has been sold to a for-profit business who wishes to displace them – knowing this may have meant the end of the business. The only space available for relocation will cost over twice their current rent, has no parking, and is not available until spring of 2023.

These increased costs will mean less funding for the community, one that has come to depend on the profits of this enterprise. Unfortunately, the area continues to favor tourism and ignore the needs of local inhabitants. If this trend continues, Grand Marais will no longer be the charming town that people want to visit – it will have taken on new dimensions and character. More devastating, I find, is how quickly the face of Grand Marais is currently changing and the impact this is having on “homegrown” locals – “real” locals who have lived here for a lifetime. They are witnessing a loss of long-held community entities – some of which have served the community very well.

Located in the heart of Grand Marais, First & Second is entirely volunteer-based with all profits gifted to the community. Co-founder Lois Johnson, now in her mid-eighties, stresses that it is a critical operation for keeping all that the shop inventories from going to the waste stream. A great idea in any location, particularly one that prides itself on its natural surroundings. It’s keeping our environment a bit cleaner – one thing we can control.

First & Second also provides affordable merchandise to those not poised to spend tourist-town-prices on daily needs. While in conversation with Lois Johnson she told of a man who came up to the counter, shirt in hand, wondering if the price on the tag was accurate. He had just been to another local establishment at which the price for the very same item was six times the cost of the one in hand. It’s expensive to live in this area. And locals are looking at a significant decrease in community funding as rent significantly increases for the very entity that contributes significantly to them – for no other reason than another business expanding peak-season profits.

When speaking to Dorothy, also well into her senior years and one of the First & Second volunteers, she was telling me how the long-term, highly committed volunteers are “…losing their lives…their homes.” I sensed by her voice and her words that Dorothy is one of those who is losing their home. Each time I saw her in the shop I could feel her sense of pride. In serving their broader community, volunteers became one another’s community. They became a lifeforce that gives each other purpose.

Fifteen years of donating 100% of profit to the community will have given Grand Marais nearly one million dollars by the end of this year. That is a lot of “something” to give to a community.

Our community needs them.

End Note: First & Second encourages you to hold on to gently used clothing and household goods until they reopen in the spring of 2023.

AmyLeo Barakovich, Tofte

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