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Full Circle volunteers say working at thrift shop is a 'feel good' experience

MILAN -- Trendy new stores are best searched for in strip malls and megamalls, but if you're hunting for a store that is all about the down-to-earth and practical, take a look inside the former Milan School building.

Along with enjoying the benefits of a thrift store's bargains, you will discover what its volunteer workers like most of all.

"It's a 'feel good' job,'' said Jan Link.

Link keeps the books for the Greater Milan Initiative, a nonprofit citizens group which acquired the former Milan School building one year ago with intentions of preserving its role as a place for the community.

One of the first steps was to open the Full Circle, a thrift store that offers everything from clothing and household goods to books and, especially, lots of fun toys and items for children.

The good feeling that Link refers to comes in large part from how much its customers appreciate the store, according to Mary Ziemann, who is the lead volunteer for this venture.

The store is often a first stop for newcomers to the community, according to Ziemann. "When new people come to town, they come and get their pots and pans and things they need,'' she said.

Many other shoppers come for things they want but could not otherwise afford. Just the other day, one man couldn't contain his excitement about a maroon-colored sport shirt. He could never have afforded the shirt elsewhere, he told the clerks as he happily offered his money.

Others come looking for everything from bargains to collectibles, or a good book to read, said Ziemann. They love to browse and hunt for different things at bargain prices, she said.

But without a doubt, she said most of the store's customers are looking for the practical things they need for themselves and their children. For as little as 25 or 50 cents, or at most a few dollars, customers can take home anything from a pair of shoes or boots to a cold-weather jacket or a purse.

Since its opening earlier this year, Ziemann said she has discovered that the thrift store serves a much needed purpose. Otherwise, the closest thrift shop available to those on a limited budget is an hour's drive away in Willmar.

The Full Circle has also proven its worth when misfortune strikes. The volunteers opened its doors recently when a family had lost its possessions in a fire. They insisted that the fire victims take what they needed to start over at no cost.

These kinds of stories make it easy to see why the store is a feel good place, but it's only a part of the story, according to Anne Kanten, one of the store's volunteers. Kanten is also a part of the Great Milan Initiative.

Kanten said she cannot overstate how important she feels it is to preserve the building as a community place.

The building serves as an important and neutral gathering place for people that no other venue, whether it is a church or private business, can provide in the same way, she explained.

"It's our place in Milan,'' she said. "We're going to keep it.''

Link said the store is one of the ways to make that possible. All of the proceeds from the store's sales go directly to the building and its upkeep.

Ziemann said there are 20 volunteers who pitch in to help run the store.

Link said she is sometimes surprised at how willing people are to volunteer their time, until she stops by the store. Every time she does, Link said she hears the volunteers giggling and having fun. It's obvious they feel good about what they're doing, she said.

The store is currently open from 1 to 4 p.m. Fridays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays or by special appointment. Call 320-734-4868 or 734-4128 for more information.