River Falls becomes magnet for thrift shops as consumers hunt for bargains

Posted November 16, 2016

Since the recession of 2008, thrift shopping has made a comeback across the nation, and River Falls is no exception.

Treasures from the Heart, Fox Den Used Books, Second Star Clothing, Second Chances, ReStore and many other shops in Riverwalk Square are just a few of the many thrift, second hand and consignment shops located in River Falls.

Chris Blasius is the CEO of the River Falls Chamber of Commerce, which helps with promotional work for businesses in the city. She said the high number of these stores that already were doing business in town may have made River Falls more attractive to people looking to open one of their own.

“You know, since there were already a couple that have been established here for a while, it may look like an attractive place for others looking to open that type of store,” Blasius said.

As far as city and county sales tax revenue, she doesn’t think River Falls is comparable to places like Hudson, simply because there’s not as much space available for retail stores to open.

“Our sales tax revenue is likely lower than St. Croix County likely just because we’re a smaller city. There are more opportunities to open bigger retail stores in places like Hudson,” Blasius said. “However, while we’d of course like all our storefronts to be occupied, we’ve been very lucky to have them almost all filled for some time now.”

Blasius pointed out that many of these thrift stores are part of a non-profit business model, too. Second Chances, Treasures from the Heart and ReStore are a few of these.

Kelly Zillmer, manager of Second Chances, is the only full-time employee at the store. It’s otherwise run on a completely volunteer basis. The store is associated with Turningpoint, a shelter for victims of domestic and sexual violence. She said that because the shelter was located in River Falls, it seemed natural to open the store in town.

“We opened Second Chances about 11 years ago now,” Zillmer said. “What we’re focused on is both raising funds for the nonprofit, and helping clients get ahead after they leave.”

And despite being in such close proximity to other stores on Main Street, Zillmer said there is little competition for consumers.

“There’s really not much (competition),” Zillmer said. “If we don’t have something that a client leaving needs, we’ll send them down the block to Treasures from the Heart, or another shop that might have what they need. We all work together very well.”

Zillmer added that the store is always looking for new volunteers, especially during the busy holiday season.

Thrift shopping also isn’t just for stereotypical penny-pinching grandmothers anymore, either. College students are found browsing in all the shops along Main Street, looking for deals on vintage and unique items.

Nicole Mortenson, a junior studying art at UW-River Falls, said she likes to frequent thrift shops because of the many items to choose from.

“I really enjoy going to thrift stores because of the lower prices and abundance of different items and brands the stores have,” she said. “I always hope to find an item that is a quality brand I know of, because if it’s still in good condition after being used, it’s probably going to last me a long time.”

She added, “Really, some of my favorite things have been from thrift stores. It could be that I only paid about $3 for it, or maybe it was the almost treasure-hunt endeavor to find the item, but in the end I find a lot of satisfaction from shopping at thrift stores, for my wallet’s sake and the excitement of finding some rad second-hand gear.”