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Thrift Store Town

Patrick Sullivan - January 2nd, 2012  


Dollar store becomes a general store and more

Charlie Tinon, a worker at the dollar store, behind the counter.

The Bargains Galore Dollar Store on Cedar Street in Kalkaska.

Jim Hagler runs the Bargains Galore Dollar Store in Kalkaska with his wife, Kathern.

At the Bargains Galore Dollar Store on Cedar Street in Kalkaska, the family that runs the place realized a couple of years ago they needed to do more than offer an array of items for $1.

Jim and Kathern Hagler decided to broaden their business by becoming something like an old fashioned general store combined with a used goods store that pays for items to help some customers who have cash flow problems.

The Haglers had previously operated restaurants in that location and for a decade they’d run an office supply store in Kalkaska. In 2003 they decided to do something different and they opened a store, located across the street from Kalkaska’s famous trout, that has since then it has grown into the sort of place that sells almost everything.

“It was an empty building,” Kathern said.

“We had to do something with it.”

Certainly, you can still find things that cost just a dollar, but they’ve expanded their inventory and now offer some groceries, hardware and an assortment of used items at a variety of prices.

They run the business to survive and to fund their church down the block, the Family of God Christian Fellowship.

“He don’t preach to be paid,” Kathern said of her husband.

As the store evolved, the Haglers looked for other ways to make money. They added special occasion balloons. To appeal to tourists, they introduced homemade fudge.

Then, in 2007 and 2008, the economy got really bad and the Haglers noticed that people were struggling.

Jobs were lost. Wallets emptied. They decided to pay cash for some items and resell them and to take other items on consignment.

“People, they needed gas money,” Kathern said.


Jim Hagler said they started the used goods business to help people out.

“We started that because of the economy,” he said. “We know that people have items, and maybe they need to turn them into money ... they’re out of jobs, there’s not a lot of work, that’s just it right there in a nutshell. There’s just not a lot of work for people.”

He said through his business and his ministry he sees first-hand the poverty in town.

“People who don’t have any money just don’t have any money, there’s a big gap between the haves and the have-nots,” he said. “We decided, you know, what people have a lot of is items that they have at home, and they can bring them here.”

Customer Krista Nichols of Kalkaska said the Haglers help in another way, too. They offer a diverse enough selection of items she can shop in downtown Kalkaska sometimes rather than use gasoline to drive to a grocery store.

“There are people who come here to buy staples so they don’t have to go all the way to Traverse City,” Nichols said. “They are a benefit to the community.”

Business is tough, though. Jim said.

They have to pay $500 a month in property taxes, which they can hardly manage given the kind of business they have.

“When it comes to independent business, they need the ability to change without having to go back and get permission every time they turn around,” he said. “Independents, they are experimental, they aren’t stamped out businesses. ... You’re always evolving, trying to figure out what’s going to really click.”


Down the street, a mainstay of local charity, KAIR, or Kalkaska Area Interfaith Resources, is reeling from a recent embezzlement case.

Its former director is accused of stealing from the charity.

The blow to the agency -- to its finances and to its reputation -- couldn’t have come at a worse time, said Ron Gay, acting director.

“In the last couple of years, things have gotten a lot worse,” Gay said about the amount of poverty in the area.

Gay took over in August, after the embezzlement came to light.

“As soon as we found out, in twelve hours she was gone and the sheriff was called,” Gay said.

The former director was charged with embezzlement between $1,000 and $20,000, a felony that carries up to 10 years in prison. She was accused of taking over $20,000 between 2009 and 2011.

Despite that, area residents have continued to support KAIR.

“We’ve had a real outpouring from people in the community,” Gay said.

For instance, when word got out that KAIR wasn’t going to be able to include ham in the Christmas boxes set to go out to needy families this year, a call went out, organizations mobilized and checks were written.

Soon, KAIR could afford the 250 hams it needed.


Gay and another KAIR official, Brenda Vowels, the KAIR food pantry director, have no shortage of stories that describe what some people are going through recently.

There is the family who came in for help last winter who were living on state land in a tent, Gay said. He helped them get into housing and that family has since moved out of the area.

Vowels said just recently a young man, probably in his early 20s, came to her saying he needed some food. She assumed he needed to sign up for food aid but that wasn’t the case -- he needed food right away. Hunger had brought him to the KAIR storefront after he hadn’t eaten in a couple of days.

In another recent case, Vowels said she noticed several families applying for aid and they all listed the same address. She looked into it and discovered several families were indeed living at one address -- some of them in the house, some in a tent and others in a camper.

She said it’s not uncommon lately for families to move in together and share a house to get by.

In another case, a man came in earlier this year wanting help with a $4,500 electric bill. Last winter, he ran out of propane and

couldn’t afford a refill, so he heated his house with electric space heaters. The man is in his late 30s, he’s got a wife and three children, he has cancer, and he needs to keep his house warm, Gay said.

Gay said he was able to get the utility company to knock a little off of the bill, but he couldn’t help much. He doesn’t know what the man will do this winter.

“A guy came in today and said, ‘I put my last little pile of wood pellets in the stove last night and I think he had four kids,” Gay said.

Sometimes around Kalkaska it seems like a Third World country, Vowels said.

“It’s been an eye opener, working in the food pantry,” she said.

Gay agreed: “It shouldn’t be in America, you know? And I tell you, it’s only going to get worse as the winter goes along.”


J.D. Snyder, project director at the MSU Center for Community and Economic Development, said it is not surprising that an economically distressed community would turn to second-hand trading of goods and services so that people could get by.

“That really does amount to your most primitive level of economic activity,” Snyder said. “The flip-side of that is to recognize that necessity is the mother of invention.”

Tough times will be the toughest for the most vulnerable, as has happened to some in Kalkaska or other pockets of economic depression around Northern Michigan.

“I would state that the good news there is that people are finding a way to obtain what they need,” Snyder said. “People are being sufficiently creative to find ways to satisfy their needs.”

Snyder said such adaption shows that people have the ability to find ways to get themselves out of the economic doldrums.

“It seems highly plausible, in my mind, that they can come together and say, ‘How do we get to the next step?’” In the meantime, Snyder said that Michigan’s severe winters should prompt everyone to watch out for the needs of extremely poor people, especially the elderly, who might not be able to make it to a shelter if their heat goes out.

Every time there is a severe winter there are news stories about people whose heat was shut off because they could not pay their bills and they’ve been found frozen to death, he said.

Ron Gay, acting director of the Kalkaska Area Interfaith Resources charity, and Brenda Vowels, KAIR food director.

The Kalkaska Area Interfaith Resources food pantry.

“All we can do is really hope that our local agencies are doing as much as possible to help to avoid these situations,” he said. “As a community, as a society, I think we need to be extremely aware of people’s needs, and if we’re in a position to help, we should do so.”


Kalkaska has recently recognized the town needs to redouble its efforts to pull itself out of the bad economy.

The Kalkaska Downtown Development Authority has launched programs to improve way-finding throughout the village so that travelers through town will better know what businesses are there for them.

And there are plenty of traditional businesses around Kalkaska, from restaurants and bars, to a card and gift shop, salons, and a hardware store.

At a DDA meeting in January, a consultant will present the findings of a marketing and economic strategy study to determine “what kind of stores should be in what location,” said Penny Hill, DDA manager.

They’ve also organized a rebranding effort for the village and recently conducted a contest to come up with a new slogan and logo.

Kalkaska might be best known for the landmark trout statue on Cedar Street.

“We’re trying to say we’re so much more than just the trout, and that was the whole impetus of the rebranding,” Hill said.

Nonetheless, the winning logo in the contest features an image of the trout and the slogan, “Feels like home.” The winning slogan, which was a separate part of the contest, was “Discover the possibilities.”

The contest was an effort to determine people’s perception of Kalkaska and the logo and slogan may not be part of the DDA campaign, Hill said.

And how will all of the second-hand stores fit in to Kalkaska’s future?

Hill said that perhaps in better times, when there aren’t so many impoverished people around, those kind of stores will evolve into antique stores or something else.

“I think the report will show that they are needed, but they shouldn’t be predominant in our downtown,” Hill said. “I think the store owners themselves would say that they would be quite happy to evolve into something beyond a second-hand store.”

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