West Florissant Report: Thrift store takes precaution, weathers storm

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When rioting broke out in Ferguson in the wake of Michael Brown’s death last year, Marlene Heislen of the Lutheran Resale Shop faced a decision.

“We had choices to make. As renters, we are liable for all the glass, and … it would be very expensive to replace,” Heislen said. “I made a decision, and I boarded up all the windows.”

Established about half a century ago with a mission to serve community, Lutheran Resale Shop is located on West Florissant Avenue in Jennings, just southeast of Ferguson. The store relies on donations, and it’s staffed by volunteers. A trio of local Lutheran organizations are the beneficiaries of any profit the shop makes.

The West Florissant Report: A major artery running through Ferguson, West Florissant Avenue became an epicenter of protests, violence and destruction over the final months of 2014. One year after the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, which sparked that unrest, Missouri Business Alert visited with businesses located on or near West Florissant to learn about the last year and what the future holds for Ferguson.

Lutheran Resale Shop spent about $500 on materials and labor protecting most of its exterior glass, and the store avoided sustaining any major damage. The shop was broken into at one point by someone climbing through a small back window, but the intruder did minimal damage and did not steal or destroy any valuables.

The windows were still boarded over during the Christmas shopping season last year, and the shop’s treasurer estimated business was down by about $4,400 as a result. Heislen said the store suffered because people thought it was closed due to the boarded-up windows.

“We finally came up with the idea of a flag,” she said, to let people know that the store was open for business.

Customers are coming back to Lutheran Resale Shop now, Heislen said, but initially the store saw sales dip because people were afraid to be around the area.

The riots didn’t affect the amount of donations the shop receives. And even during the peak of the unrest, the business stayed open as scheduled, six days a week.

Despite the challenges it faced last year, Lutheran Resale Shop has no plans to move from its current location, which it has called home since 2007. Heislen said the store wants to continue serving the community with its low-cost merchandise and that “the neighbors love it.”

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