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'Treasures,' volunteers make this a destination shop

Donna Karis works for Treasures from the Heart and remembers one couple who came in and did all their Christmas shopping with $100 each.

They remarked that they never could have done that at a mall or other large retailer, especially considering that each item was unique.

Other downtown business owners have commented to Treasures employees about traffic the store generates, and they're usually not complaining.

"We feel like we're part of the community," Karis said.

River Falls' Treasures from the Heart celebrates its three-year anniversary Friday. The store expanded twice since opening and stays busy from open to close.

The non-profit store's motto "great used goods at penny-wise prices" explains a lot, but else what makes Treasures so special and busy?

Customers buy goods at deep discounts and store proceeds go to a non-profit home health and hospice organization.

A part-time paid staff of nine people plus about 100 volunteers keep the goods flowing onto the racks and looking good.

Karis serves as marketing and development coordinator for ADORAY Home Care (formerly Heartland Home Care Network), Treasures' parent company.

Karis said the store usually offers prices that reflect at least one-half or one-third off of retail prices for similar, new items. She said the store gets patrons all the way from the Twin Cities and up north because it offers unique items.

ADORAY needed an ongoing fundraiser after the federal government cut Medicare payment to home health agencies. The non-profit company provides care to people in Dunn, Pierce, Polk and St. Croix counties and has helped some 4,000 people since opening in 1995, according to Karis.

A group began brainstorming about how to raise money, and now-store-manager Nancy Christensen had the idea of opening the first Treasures from the Heart store in Baldwin eight years ago. Business grew but the Baldwin Treasures building couldn't, so it expanded by opening a second store in River Falls - three years ago this Friday.

Patrons, partners

Shopper Jim Elsen lives half the time in Michigan, half the time in Two Rivers.

He comes to Treasures about once every two weeks when his wife is working nearby. He likes shopping Treasures' book sections.

"I like John Grisham books, but I've read all 18 of them," Elsen said. "This time I might try a Tom Clancy."

Local patron June Johnson works down the block from Treasures and likes to browse regularly.

She fondly remembers a beautiful silk suit she once found there. It was already very reasonably priced, but she ended up getting an extra discount and couldn't believe the price she paid. Normally an item like that would be too expensive.

Johnson works with a lady who sometimes comes in as often as twice a day.

Volunteer Kelly Dejuliannie attends River Falls' Renaissance Academy and gets class credit for her job at Treasures. She said she really likes working at the store and is amazed by all the good people she meets there.

"It's my first work experience, and I'm learning a lot, like the cash register and pricing," said Dejuliannie.

Pearl Kittelson has worked at Treasures since the beginning and said, "It's a great place."

She thinks people's demand prompted the store to extend hours.

Volunteers keep it going

Treasures' large volunteer staff mixes people of all ages and their efforts in order to keep everything running well. Some retired people volunteer. Many students from UW-River Falls, River Falls High School and the Renaissance Academy give time.

Christensen said, "I have been so impressed with the enthusiasm and work ethic of our high school and UW-RF volunteers. The store would not be thriving without their help."

Karis said the store has a mother-daughter team that comes in on Saturdays, two husband-wife teams that helps, and many others who work all combinations of hours.

"We try to match (volunteers') interests the best we can," Karis said. "And people tend to gravitate toward areas they like most or have good knowledge of."

For example, a volunteer who knows a lot about antiques and has reference books about them would probably get assigned to antiques. Somebody who really knows shoes could price them.

Karis said, "It requires some homework."

Several volunteers come only during the school year for course credit. Others only work during summer, and some work the same hours every week. Treasures strives to keep at least six volunteers on the floor anytime the store is open.

New store hours started in March: Tuesday-Thursday 9 a.m.-7 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m., giving shoppers an extra hour to browse.

Staff comes in on Monday but doesn't take donations. They're there to clean, restock and set up the store.

People can volunteer by calling or coming into the store and filling out a form telling about their interests. The store maintains a sign-up calendar, then the manager assigns duties.

Bags, boxes and other containers flow into the store all day. Patrons know the ways to Treasures' big space downstairs designated for donation. Some days, so many donations come in that the volunteers barely fit in the room with all the merchandise.

Workers sort, clean, price and tag hundreds of items. Some can't be kept for sale, so Treasures donates them to the Salvation Army, which picks up every day the store is open.

Treasures gets antiques, books, CDs, DVDs, furniture, jewelry, dishes, linens, shoes, clothes, artwork and crafts. One person closed a business and donated dozens of boxes of new monogrammed stationery.

Shoppers will find magazines, knickknacks, hand-painted china, sewing machines, lamps and many trinkets. Treasures has a vintage clothing section, which Karis said is "pretty popular."

Volunteer Bonnie Blue said Treasures serves the community by serving as a recycling center. People bring in lots of items they might otherwise throw away.

Volunteers donated nearly 10,000 hours of time in 2005 and sometimes exert extra effort.

Someone sorting purses once found a large sum of cash tucked inside one of the bags. Soon the staff figured out that the envelopes had been meant for children and grandchildren. Volunteers tracked down the money's rightful owners and gave them the cash.

Minding shop

The store acquired the space of a small, adjacent smoke shop when its owner retired. There Treasures places a seasonal display that passersby can see from the sidewalk.

Right now, the small space shows off a collection of bunnies, flowers and other Easter-like items. Karis said people can hardly wait to see the new display and sometimes move merchandise out of the way to go in and see it before it's ready.

Treasures asks for items that are either "gently used or like new." It suggests giving clothes, shoes, boots, purses, jewelry, scarves, coats, hats, mittens, furniture, high chairs, strollers, new stuffed animals, dishes, utensils, household goods, linens, quilts blankets, sheets, books, CDs, videos, DVDs, antiques, lamps and collectibles.

Many items Treasures cannot accept: Large appliances, TVs, VCRs, microwaves, computers, typewriters, stereos, used toys, cribs, mattresses, dehumidifiers, ceiling fans, ceiling light fixtures, mini blinds, drapes, curtain rods, wire hangers, bicycles, bicycle helmets, exercise equipment and child car seats.

Contact Treasures from the Heart for more information: 425-9771 or go to its 200 S. Main St. location.