Business

Crowded Closet in fourth home in 41 years

Thrift shop opens in former Kmart

Melinda Turnbull (from left), volunteer, talks with Royceann Porter, Johnson County Supervisor, after she purchased a toy for her nephew during the grand opening for the Crowded Closet in Pepperwood Plaza in Iowa City on Monday, Mar. 25, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Melinda Turnbull (from left), volunteer, talks with Royceann Porter, Johnson County Supervisor, after she purchased a toy for her nephew during the grand opening for the Crowded Closet in Pepperwood Plaza in Iowa City on Monday, Mar. 25, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — Crowded Closet, Iowa City’s longtime go-to thrift shop for gently used clothing, housewares, furniture, books and other merchandise, is launching its second 40 years at a new location.

“We celebrate this move with our wonderful donors and faithful shoppers,” Christine Maust Beachy told the crowd gathered outside the new store this past Monday morning. “We’ve missed you for two weeks.”

After a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony the crowd filed into a former Kmart in Pepperwood Plaza. The store has more than 11,000 square feet of display space with a large area set aside for donation drop-off and processing.

“This day, it seemed like it would never come,” said Galen Graber, a member of the Crowded Closet board. “Five years ago, it seemed like a dream, but everything fell into place.”

It’s the fourth home for Crowded Closet since its 1978 founding by church women to support the Mennonite Central Committee’s worldwide relief and development programs. The store is one of a network of Mennonite thrift shops and the only Iowa location, according to Maust Beachy, the store’s volunteer coordinator.

“We have more than we need, and one way we can support what’s going on around the world and locally is with a thrift shop,” Maust Beachy said of its founders’ philosophy.

Through its history, Crowded Closet has maintained close ties to such local organizations as CommUnity Crisis Services and Food Bank, the Domestic Violence Intervention Program, and Shelter House.

“Women rocked in ’78,” said Johnson County Supervisor Royce Ann Porter.

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While working at Shelter House, Porter said she often brought its clients to Crowded Closet’s earlier locations — all on Gilbert Court — to rebuild their wardrobes.

“You work for the people and you’re part of the community,” Porter said.

The new store covers 22,300 square feet, with another 17,400 square feet for donation drop-off, processing and storage, offices, and a break room. There’s also an 11,900 square-foot retail space next door for which the board is seeking a tenant.

Maust Beachy said the paid staff of 10 schedules and supervises more than 300 active volunteers.

“It’s always been an organization that values stewardship,” she said.

Maust Beachy said Crowded Closet staff built its base with faithful customers and donors — often the same people. It’s become a place where generations of University of Iowa students setting up off-campus housekeeping rub shoulders with bargain-hunting longtime residents.

More recently, it’s capitalized on burgeoning interest in vintage clothing and furnishings.

“Different things have become trends over the years,” she said. “The shop develops to follow the interests and needs of our customers.”

While the large grand-reopening crowd perused the merchandise, Maust Beachy reassured a customer who wondered if its stock would be depleted.

“The work room is ready,” she said. “It’s filled.”

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AT A GLANCE

• Owner: Mennonite Central Committee

• Business: Crowded Closet Thrift Shop

• Address: 851 Highway 6 E, Iowa City

• Phone: (319) 337-5924

• Website: www.crowdedcloset.org

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