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Aspen Thrift Shop inches closer to $2.1M goal

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Many Aspen bargain hunters consider The Thrift Shop the best deal in town. Likewise, for years The Thrift Shop has gotten one of the best deals in town, hands down.

Since 1981, the used goods store has doled out one buck a year to its landlord, the city of Aspen, to lease the land its 2,000-square-foot building sits upon. But that’s all about to change, at least on a temporary basis.

Come May 5, The Thrift Shop building, along with the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department building next door, will be torn down. The two structures will be replaced with a new three-story station, and a 4,700-square-foot building that will house the secondhand goods store that’s done business in Aspen since 1949 ” when Harry Truman was president and skiing in Aspen was in its infancy.



All of this means that The Thrift Shop will need to find a temporary home until its new one is finished.

Sue Kolbe, who is president of the nonprofit organization, says the store will be paying free-market rent, which, in downtown Aspen, can translate into monthly payments in the thousands of dollars. When The Thrift Shop sets up in its new, permanent home, its rent will return to $1 a year. In fact, it just renewed a 47-year lease with its landlord.




But during the interim, it likely will be paying fair market prices to remain downtown.

“We’re going to have to suck it up and do it,” Kolbe said. “But we plan to stay downtown for just a year, or possibly shorter.”

Kolbe said the store plans to pay the rent with its sales revenue. And given that the shop’s items range from 50 cents to $10, it’s clear the store will need to remain volume driven.

But compared to most downtown retailers, The Thrift Shop’s overhead is quite low.

More than 80 volunteers comprise the staff of the store, which normally operates from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Saturday. It’s also open 4-7 p.m. on Tuesdays.

The store’s inventory consists strictly of donations, and no one gets paid.

Kolbe said The Thrift Shop is inching closer to its goal of raising $2.1 million to fund the construction of its new building.

About $1.2 million has been generated since the fundraising drive began about a year and a half ago, she said. The money has come from about 300 individuals, as well as from foundations and grants, Kolbe said. The Denver-based Gates Family Foundation also has given The Thrift Shop a $200,000 challenge grant, Kolbe said.

And the store has earmarked some of its sales revenue for its building fund.

“We’re used to giving out money, and now we’ve been having to ask for money,” she said.

Over the years the revenues generated from the store’s sales have gone to charity.

Indeed, The Thrift Shop doles out hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in grants, according to the Form 990 tax returns it files with the IRS.

In the 2006 tax year it handed out $207,695 in grants. Among the nonprofit beneficiaries were the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies ($4,500), Aspen Writers’ Foundation ($2,000), the Buddy Program ($2,000), the Aspen Speedo Swim Team ($1,000), Earthbeat Choir ($3,000) and Aspen Junior Golf ($8,000).

“We pay for utilities and trash, and there’s the occasional repair,” Kolbe noted. “And everything else we make we give in donations.”

In the 2005 tax year, The Thrift Shop handed out $275,738 in grants, according to IRS records. That was nearly $68,000 more than what the store distributed in 2006.

The reason for the dropoff in grant allocations is because since the fundraising drive began in 2006, half of the sales revenue has gone toward the store’s building fund.

At the same time, The Thrift Shop saw its sales revenue increase from $288,555 in the 2005 tax year to $328,824 in the 2006 tax year, records show.

Kolbe said the near $40,000 boost in revenues was because The Thrift Shop expanded its downstairs space so it could hold more inventory, and it now sells offseason goods year round.

As the days wind down at The Thrift Shop’s existing location, Kolbe said she’s excited about the future. The store will more than double in size, and it will no longer have the crammed feel that shoppers have come to expect.

And on April 26, The Thrift Shop and the fire station will hold an event called the Wrecking Ball, which will signal a send-off for the two buildings.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com