South Side Mission puts down roots by buying site of newest retail location

By Elise Zwicky for Chronicle Media

Customers lined up for the grand opening earlier this month of the South Side Mission’s newest thrift store located in a former Aldi store at 603 E. War Memorial Drive in Peoria. The Mission also operates resale stores in Morton and on Sterling Avenue in Peoria, but the new one is the only one on property owned by the nonprofit. (Photo courtesy of the South Side Mission)

The South Side Mission’s newest resale shop in Peoria not only generates revenue to operate the nonprofit’s many ministries, it’s also a way to help the community.

“The stores themselves are a ministry,” said Stephanie Couri, the Mission’s director of business. “We give away things to people when they have a house fire or we might have new foster parents that get a placement and they don’t have anything, so they come in and we bless them with whatever we can.”

The newest of the Mission’s three thrift stores opened earlier this month at a former Aldi store at 603 E. War Memorial Drive. The organization purchased the property last spring for $1.2 million.

The Mission’s two other resale stores, located at 3033 N. Sterling Ave. in Peoria and at 2125 S. Main St. in Morton, both operate on rented property. Another Mission thrift store on Pioneer Parkway in Peoria was closed before the new one opened.

“Our lease was coming up for renewal at the Pioneer Parkway location, and our board said if we’re going to be in this business long-term, doesn’t it make more sense for us to purchase something rather than rent?” Couri said. “The other locations will stay open, but we’ll be talking about those when their leases come up. Those are good locations.”

The stores generate about $1 million in sales yearly. The Mission’s annual operating budget is $4 million, with the rest of the funding coming from fundraisers and private donations. “We don’t receive any government funding at all,” Couri said.

The stores also help the local economy by providing jobs, she noted. The new store has about 15 paid employees, while the other two have about 12 each.

“Not only do we employ people, but we have people coming out of community service jobs or people who get assistance through TANF, which is Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, who come in and they can work off either their court-ordered hours or assistance hours,” Couri said. “Then we can hire them and get them jobs if they show us they are hard-working and reliable.”

The Mission will be hiring a few more employees at the new store to run a recycling program.

“Some of the things we can’t sell, we do recycle, such as cords from appliances that no longer work, metal pieces that can’t be sold and stained or damaged clothing. Our new location is giving us an opportunity to recycle more clothing, which is good because that does help bring in some additional funds to support our ministries,” Couri said.

Recycling clothing at the new store will be easier because the building has a docking area for semi-trailer trucks. “We used to have to bag everything and throw it in the back of a truck, but now we can actually have the semi trucks drive up to pick up our bales of clothing,” she said. The Mission was able to purchase a clothing baler at a bargain price from Bergner’s when that retailer closed its stores this summer.

A recycling broker finds buyers for the clothing, often foreign countries, Couri added.

The stores also rely on volunteers to operate. Volunteer jobs include sorting through donations, hanging clothing, straightening racks, cleaning and even untangling donated jewelry.

“We can always use more volunteers, especially for the new store. Anyone interested can talk with our volunteer coordinator by calling (309) 676-4604,” Couri said. “She kind of works with each person and vets them with what their interests are and what their gifts are and puts them where they’ll be most useful.”

The thrift stores accept donations of gently used clothing, housewares, furniture, shoes, accessories and household goods, but not beds or mattresses. Shoppers may even sometimes find a car for sale at one of the stores that has been donated. The cars are usually donated to women in the Mission’s shelter but if no one is eligible to receive it, a donated car will sometimes be put up for sale.

Couri said the Mission typically has no trouble getting donations to stock the stores. “We’re pretty blessed in that category,” she said. “Peoria has given us some really great things to sell. We could always use more at the new location just because we’re selling so much. That store has been busy and has brought us a ton of new customers.”

In addition to creating employment and offering the community vintage items at bargain prices, the stores also help the Mission provide “a hand-up rather than a hand-out,” said the Rev. Craig Williams, the organization’s executive director.

“People are fine in getting something at a cost they can afford, and that also helps them to affirm their dignity,” he said. “It’s the idea of ‘I’m working; I can afford to pay for this.’ That’s also a part of who we are and what we strive to be. So it’s very important that these stores are in place.”

Money raised from the stores help the Mission operate programs such as the New Promise Center women’s shelter, a culinary arts training school, a diner and food pantries for the underprivileged, services for the elderly and youth services, including after-school programs and the Camp Kearney summer camp for kids.

The Mission is currently gearing up for its annual Thanksgiving meal, which it provides for anyone who can use nourishment and/or company. Mission staff and volunteers will prepare and deliver about 3,300 meals and serve about 200 more at the facility’s gym at 1127 S. Laramie in Peoria.

For more information about the South Side Mission and its programs, thrift stores and volunteer opportunities, call (309) 676-4604 or visit the website at The thrift stores are open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and accept donations until 6 p.m.

To arrange for pick-up of large items, call 309-635-6278.