A tribe of hunter-gatherers can be found near University and Cromwell avenues daily, exercising their rotator cuff muscles as they search for bargains at the Goodwill Outlet.
Located at 2505 University Ave. W., with a parking lot off Cromwell, the outlet offers Minnesotans the opportunity to purchase clothing, household goods, toys, shoes, purses and more at extremely low cost. But first one must dig through the piles in bins or on long tables. It’s a treasure hunt of sorts.
The only Goodwill Outlet in the Twin Cities, it receives items daily from the32 Goodwill stores throughout the state. Goodwill keeps items in its stores for three weeks. They are discounted on their final days in each store, and if they don’t sell, they are shipped to the outlet. The items still have their Goodwill tags, but here clothing is sold at $1.49 per pound and housewares, shoes, toys and other items are sold at $1.29 per pound. On Tuesdays, adults over the age of 55 get 25 percent off their entire purchase, and all customers may purchase clothing at $1.25 per pound on Mondays and Wednesdays.
Shoppers frequently find new clothing and boots with original store tags and designer labels, along with vintage clothing, fabrics, bedding, scarves, sleeping bags, luggage, skis and more.
And outlet shoppers are happy to share their adventures. Tell others what you are looking for, and fellow shoppers will signal you if they find an item. Entire families are often at the outlet with older children helping hunt while younger children play with toys. The diversity of shoppers is vast, and one can hear a variety of languages in play.
One caution: It’s addictive.
Shoppers are there for a variety of reasons. Some purchase items to resell on eBay, some look for great buttons, others hunt for specific clothing sizes. St. Anthony Park resident Carol Haggerty regularly shops for items for new immigrants who are sponsored by St. Anthony Park Lutheran Church.
Dave Plan, merchandise supervisor of the outlet, said some customers buy items to ship worldwide. One group buys clothing to ship to Dubai. A group of Hondurans regularly shops for enough materials to fill a 40-foot container to ship to Honduras. A shop owner in Samoa has hired a local woman to purchase and ship items for his secondhand store. A St. Anthony Park neighbor returned from a recent vacation in Mexico and told of seeing clothing with Goodwill tags in local Saturday markets there.
Items that don’t sell at the outlet are boxed and sent to the Goodwill warehouse, where they are prepared for overseas auction. Goodwill donations may travel thousands of miles before finding a new home.
Each week nearly 21 semi-trucks with 44 huge bins (called gaylords) per truck are delivered to and processed through the outlet. That means you have the potential (if you can stay on your feet) to search through 924 gaylords each week. It is recommended that you come to shop for at least an hour to see the regular turnover of gaylords. Wear comfortable shoes and clothing and put your keys in your purse or pocket when you arrive, as you do not want to lose them on tables.
The first time you visit the outlet, ask the staff to explain the rules, which includes “no running.” One more thing: If you are driving, use the west exit out of the parking lot to Cromwell during the winter months. The east exit is a winter challenge as you must carefully drive between two large Bur Oak trees.
The outlet is open seven days a week (except on specific holidays). Detailed hours and directions are online at www.goodwilleasterseals.org/site/PageServer?pagename=shop_outlet.
Unlike your local Goodwill store, you may notbring your items for donation to the outlet.
A Goodwill birthday party
Take the children on a field trip to the Goodwill Outlet. Plan to have one adult with every two children. Ask the children to hunt and select clothing they think another child would like. After shopping, have the children remove the tags. While they have a sleepover at your home, you can wash and dry the clothing. The next morning, the children can fold the clothes and tie them with ribbons in bundles by age group. They can then donate the clothing to a homeless center that houses families.
Mary Maguire-Lerman is a retired horticulturist who spends some of her time foraging through the tables at the Goodwill Outlet.