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Major renovations underway at Kalispell thrift store

by BRET ANNE SERBIN
Daily Inter Lake | October 3, 2021 12:00 AM

A cornerstone of Kalispell is undergoing a transformation.

Flathead Industries is in the midst of renovating its Kalispell thrift store at the intersection of Main and Idaho streets. When it’s completed, the high-profile building will have an entirely new exterior.

Flathead Industries also is adding a new warehouse and a covered drive-thru drop-off lane for donations.

“We were wanting to be good stewards of our building and where we’re located,” explained Mitch McKinley, the nonprofit’s retail operations director. “This will definitely help improve the flow of our donations and increase the service to customers there.”

Optimizing the store’s operations does a lot more than increase revenue. The Kalispell store, along with the organization’s two other stores in Whitefish and Columbia Falls, provides income and opportunities to individuals with disabilities.

“The quality of donations directly impacts [those individuals],” McKinley explained.

Thirty people with developmental disabilities are employed at the organization’s thrift stores. A total of 240 people with disabilities receive different services, from vocational training to housing, through Flathead Industries’ county-wide programs.

“It’s a very fun and unique business,” McKinley said. “They are absolutely amazing people…That’s why we wanted to make that the best [shopping] experience possible.”

FLATHEAD INDUSTRIES has been using a version of this business model to serve the local disabled population since the 1970s. At first, eight people with disabilities worked on sorting donations at a recycling center. In the decades since those humble beginnings, Flathead Industries has expanded tremendously.

“Our services are quite diverse,” McKinley pointed out. “Every single aspect of your life, we’re there to be able to assist.”

He said the nonprofit’s services run the gamut, from lending a hand with toothbrushing to placing workers in jobs all around the valley. The overarching goal is to foster independence.

But Flathead Industries depends on community support to make that happen.

The trio of associated thrift stores form the bedrock of Flathead Industries. They give vocational, financial and social outlets to people with disabilities in each of the Flathead’s three incorporated cities. Proceeds from sales at the thrift stores — along with the annual Climb Big Mountain fundraiser each summer — are the main funding mechanism for the people who live and work with Flathead Industries.

“Our biggest ask to the community is always: shop and support us at our thrift stores,” urged McKinley.

Because the thrift stores are so intimately tied with quality of life for the participants, McKinley said the Flathead Industries board decided this summer was the time to give its Kalispell shop a facelift.

“It was obviously in much need of updating,” he said.

The building at Kalispell’s busiest crossroad at the intersection of U.S. 2 and U.S. 93 dates back at least to 1985, when it was a Sportsman & Ski Haus store. McKinley said some parts of the current space, which has been remodeled and added onto approximately seven times, have been in place since the 1950s.

MCKINLEY SAID the renovation partially was inspired by the rejuvenation of the core area in downtown Kalispell and the recent creation of the Kalispell Parkline Trail running east to west through the city.

“We want to be part of the new look and feel of that area,” he said. “We hope to do that justice for the community and have a good-looking building there on the corner.”

The most salient aspect of the exterior renovation will be a metal two-tone mountain landscape built along the wall parallel to Main Street.

The renovations got underway at the end of July, and McKinley said they’re expected to be completed by the end of October or early November.

Interior renovations will be minimal, according to McKinley, but visitors to the thrift store are sure to notice the covered drive-thru donation lane, the improved parking lot and the warehouse at the southeast corner of the property where a shipping container used to sit.

The warehouse will increase storage capacity, giving Flathead Industries better security and the ability to recycle more donations. McKinley said Flathead Industries already keeps more than 750,000 pounds of recyclable material out of the county landfill every year.

Donations are also accepted at the Whitefish thrift store at 237 Baker Ave., which was renovated four years ago, and the Columbia Falls’ Glacier Thrift at 412 Nucleus Ave., which likely will be the next target for renovations.

“We handle a lot of goods,” McKinley noted.

That’s in spite of the Covid-19 pandemic, which shut down all three stores for six weeks last year. It cut into the nonprofit’s proceeds and forced the annual Climb Big Mountain fundraiser to take place virtually.

“Covid has made that very challenging,” McKinley said, specifically referring to Flathead Industries’ retail arm.

But he was pleased to report the organization managed to avoid laying off any employees throughout the pandemic, and the board continues to look for new ways to make its operations more resilient.

“We’re always committed to trying to get better,” McKinley said.

Flathead Industries can be found online at https://flatheadindustries.org.

Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at 406-758-4459 or bserbin@dailyinterlake.com.

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Suzanna Rasmussen works on pricing hard goods at Flathead Industries in Kalispell on Wednesday, Sept. 29. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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Building wrap on the exterior of the Flathead Industries Thrift Store in Kalispell on Wednesday, Sept. 29. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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Michael Lopez loads a bin of unusable donations into a baler for compacting and recycling at Flathead Industries in Kalispell on Wednesday, Sept. 29. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)