Winona Carufel of Lac du Flambeau navigates her cart through the St. Matthias Thrift Shop with a stuffed white horse sticking out of her brown paper grocery bag. Carufel has four daughters under age 8, and she’s filling the bag with surprises for them.
“I love to thrift shop,” Carufel said. “I grew up going to rummage sales with my grandmother. It was something we enjoyed doing together. Finding a good deal is always thrilling.”
The shop has shelves packed with toys, books, housewares, pottery and jewelry, and racks of neatly-arranged clothing. Its Minocqua location adds a North Woods feel; about half the donations come from owners of surrounding lake homes. Some vacationers plan their trips around the thrift shop’s summer sales.
“We get a lot of things that are appropriate for cabins,” said store manager Jan Degner. “Signs that say ‘Welcome to the Lake’ or ‘This Is the Swimming Hole,’ and lots of loons or bear statues that sell very quickly. Those and fish mounts are very popular. I think people like to put them up and say they caught ‘em,” she said laughing.
In a separate furniture building down the street, deer mounts are hot sellers along with dressers, tables, chairs and lamps.
The thrift shop started out 14 years ago in a little house next to St. Matthias Episcopal Church, clearing about $500 a year. In 2018, profits totaled more than $470,000. Ten percent goes to the church for outreach, and the rest is donated to local nonprofits. The shop’s volunteers elect a board of directors, which allocates the money. Grant recipients include the Lakeland Food Pantry in Woodruff, the Northwoods Alliance for Temporary Housing in Rhinelander, the Campanile Center for the Arts in Minocqua, and the Minocqua Police Department, which received $10,000 for body cameras.
“It’s a win-win-win situation,” said volunteer and lifelong summer resident Barbara Dierksen. As a girl, she saw cabin furnishings tossed in the dump when lake homes changed hands.
“When people sell their cottages, they sell it with all the stuff in it because they don’t want it. They don’t want to take it home to Chicago,” said Dierksen. “New people buy that house, they don’t want that stuff. It used to go in the dump and now it comes here and it’s perfectly good stuff. They just don’t want it, it’s not their stuff.”
Now, those items are recycled at the thrift shop and making money for community groups.
“We’re saving the environment, we’re saving people, and other people have fun coming to buy stuff,” said Dierksen.
Degner is picky about the quality of goods. She has a “three-sort system” for clothing: three people check for rips, tears, missing buttons and stains before items make it to the shop floor.
“Some people call it the ‘Macy’s of the North,’” she said with a smile.
The shop is also a hub for storytelling. When a family member dies, younger relatives bring carloads of belongings, sharing memories recalled through photos, jewelry and favorite pieces of clothing. Older volunteers enjoy the camaraderie.
“We laugh together and cry together,” said Degner. “I’m really proud of that part of it.”
SONG: “The Bargain Store” by Dolly Parton