The Folkshop takes its place among the main downtown businesses of St. Ignatius seriously. There’s the bank, the grocery store, the auto and hardware stores, eateries, and the Folkshop, the town’s main clothing, and “treasures,” outlet.
In its 44th year, the Folkshop embraces its mission to employ disabled folks in real and meaningful jobs while serving needs of the local community. It was started in 1975 by parents of disabled kids wanting to provide them with real work and a nice place to spend time, and has served that function ever since.
Manager and director Barbara Rentschler is in her 20th year at the Folkshop. In that time, she and the crew have turned it into a highly efficient business that has been able to upgrade its building with everything from new paint and flooring to new toilets, provides a living for several employees, and donates significantly to people in need and other area non-profits.
The crew is proud to maintain a clean and highly functional business for disabled people to work in.
“I always felt that stores that are established for this purpose should be just as nice as a department store, and this store is,” says Rentschler. “My favorite compliment is that every day someone comes in and says how great our store smells. We’ve made the grade if you think our thrift store smells good.”
The Folkshop is a self-sustaining private non-profit not affiliated with any other organization, and does not take any grants or government funding. Rentschler says this allows for a more stable business that won’t get shut down if the funding goes away.
“We used to do small fundraisers,” says Rentschler. “But I’ve always had the idea that if you could not ask for money from the community that’s bringing you hundreds of thousands of items year-round, that’s probably the best-case scenario.”
“I knew there were some management things I could do to change it to where we might make enough money to where we could give back regularly to the community. Everybody who has worked here has worked their tail off to get us here. It’s like a circle. I don’t sell on e-Bay as most thrift stores do. I didn’t believe in that. My community is bringing me all these beautiful things.”
Not everything is usable, and they spend thousands of hours sorting through it. They do check on e-bay to find out the value of some higher-dollar items. “But I don’t use those prices. We get an idea what it’s worth. That’s just smart business, and it’s one of the reasons we are able to give so much to the community. But it has to be sold at a price this market, this town, will support.”
There is something for everyone and every pocketbook here. “We always have dollar-rack clothing, so if anyone’s really in need it is affordable. And of course, if someone’s really in need — fire victims for instance — we give away clothing and whatever they might need. We do a huge giveaway at Christmas, giving money away to individuals, and we give money to organizations all over the valley.
“I don’t know if you could mention a local non-profit we haven’t given to, but if you did, I would probably give them money.”The local fire department and food bank, senior citizens, Safe Harbor, and the animal shelter are among the recipients, and she says they are always trying to add more.
“And then someone will call me out of the blue and say, ‘Barb, this person or this family needs help,’ and we send them money, or gas certificates, grocery certificates, things like that.” Rentschler estimates donations to the community range between five- and ten-thousand dollars a year.
The thrift store business reflects the economy of the times, Barb says. During the recession years of 2009 through 2013, there were times that donations were down so low, the back room, usually full of donations, was completely empty. “But we just kept going, kept working. Now there’s a mountain of stuff we sort through every week.”
The store now also sells vitamins, herbal supplements, elderberry products, and essential oils. “We have the best prices in the northwest on sweetgrass, white sage, and natural health products,” says Rentschler. “It surprises people and they like it. It’s just another part of giving back, have things that help people be healthy.”
The Folkshop employs six to ten people who work flexible schedules, all part-time by choice. Four times a year, they take the whole crew on a “field trip,” taking in concerts, museums, theater productions, even the animal shelter. “We always go out for a huge dinner every time, paid for by Folkshop. It’s part of the experience. It’s good to treat your employees as well as you can when they work so hard for you. We call it a family. We spend a lot of time together.” They currently have openings to hire more staff.
“We have a lot of fun in here, too. We laugh an awful lot.”