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John Kubal/Register: Lea Gnirk, manager of the Brookings Goodwill retail store, shows some of the clothing and housewares in the store’s new 5,000 square-foot addition, which has doubled the floor space for displaying merchandise.

Goodwill expands into former Family Dollar space

BROOKINGS – The Brookings Goodwill retail store has gained about 5,000 square feet, doubling its floor space for displaying merchandise.

Call it a victory for Lea Gnirk, manager of the Brookings store and a Goodwill employee here since 2014.   

“When Family Dollar had closed, my initial hope was to expand our back room, which is fairly small,” she explained. “That’s where we do all of the production. We go through, sort through, decide whether it’s good, bad or recyclable.”

“It’s so small back there,” Gnirk added. “It was just hard to contain, because we have such a giving community. The donations that come in are just a lot. I wanted to expand that donation area.”

She floated the idea to the Goodwill of the Great Plains headquarters and support center in Sioux City, Iowa. 

“They came up and looked at it, thought about it and it got tabled for a while,” she said. “We’ve been going back and forth for about three years. So finally we decided, with the support center’s approval – actually their insistence, I guess – that we would take over the whole space and kind of bundle everything.” 

Additionally, the new added space allows for more efficient space in the “back room.”

“Having more space, we’re able to store stuff,” Gnirk explained. “Before we used to send a lot of stuff to the support center in summertime when donations were really heavy and high and we couldn’t process all the donations. In the wintertime when it was slower, we’d call and get donations sent back up,” she added.

“Hopefully, this (added space) will help alleviate that. It will help save a little bit of time, effort and money on transporting stuff.” 

About a third of donations are sellable 

Goodwill’s mission begins with what Gnirk calls “the working process.” “You donate and we categorize (items) into two different main categories: textiles … and what we call housewares.”

Textiles would be clothing of all types and such things as linens. Housewares would be what she called “pretty much anything else: knickknacks, pictures, small appliances, shoes, books, that kind of thing.”

Gnirk explained that everything donated is examined for quality. 

“With clothing we look for stains, rips, odors, pet hair. If it doesn’t meet our quality standards, we recycle the clothing and that gets sent down to Sioux City (the support center) and they bale it up,” Gnirk said. (She did note that because of the large volume of clothing that is donated, Goodwill does not launder or dry clean what it puts up for sale and suggests that customers do that before the clothing is worn.) 

“Housewares, the same thing; is it sellable, is it broken? We are able to recycle a lot of things,” she added. “We can recycle cardboard, plastic, books, shoes, metal, stuffed toys, purses, belts and hats. It’s actually sent down to the support center in Sioux City. I’m not sure what they do down there.” Nothing from Goodwill here is recycled via the Brookings Regional Landfill. 

As to the clothing “that comes through the door here,” Gnirk estimated that about one-third of it is suitable for selling. 

“As for housewares, I would go again,” she added. “About a third is sold, another third is recyclable, and the other third is broken or damaged beyond salvage.” 

And some items are donated and accepted with the foreknowledge that they are not sellable and will be recycled. 

“We were green before green was popular,” Gnirk said.

People cleaning out closets

Prior to the arrival of the coronavirus in 2020, spring was the time for most donations to Goodwill, “the time we’re in now,” she explained. “This year all normalities have kind of gone out the window, and that extends to donations. We are actually down in donations more than what we were last year.

“I think that was due in part to quarantines. Because we shut down for seven weeks (in March), and when we opened back up (in May) we were swamped with non-stop donations until November. Now it’s kind of slowed down. I assume we’ll pick up on donations in the summertime,” Gnirk said.

“Because of the quarantine, people were at home cleaning out closets.”

A back-to-normal approach

“Our focus here, our mission statement is to serve as an advocate to help people gain self-sufficiency through employment-education,” Gnirk said, clarifying who is served by Goodwill. 

“In the same regard, we want to have affordable clothing. But that does not limit our customer base to people who are in need. We have a lot of people here who are just thrifty people.”

Add to that customer base people that Gnirk calls “resale people.” They buy Goodwill merchandise and “sell it on e-bay or whatever or however thay want to do that.”

Clothing is the biggest seller; and people come from the Brookings area and beyond, because the next nearest Goodwill store is about an hour away.

When an occasional item that looks to have potential above-average sale value comes into the store, it may be put aside and sent to Sioux City for sale on-line at auction prices.      

The hours of the Brookings retail store and donation center are Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. 

The store now has 13 total employees, both part-time and full-time, and Gnirk plans “to add a couple more,” because of the expansion.

The Brookings store is under the umbrella of Goodwill of the Great Plains, a community-based non-profit headquartered in Sioux City, Iowa. Its Midwestern territory spans more than 500 miles from Rapid City to Iowa. In between are more than 20 Goodwill stores serving communities across South Dakota, Northwest Iowa, Northeast Nebraska and Southwest Minnesota. The stores serve a total of more than 12,000 people.

Contact John Kubal at [email protected] 

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