Bang-up opening for Bargain Center

Staff writerAugust 9, 2009 

With balloons, free food, the sounds of "Amazing Grace" and a lot of paying customers, the Durham Rescue Mission opened its Bargain Center on Saturday in Wake County.

"And now, all enter and shop," Rescue Mission founder Ernie Mills said as a red ribbon was cut just after noon.

The crowd obliged. By 1 p.m., according to chief operating officer Rob Tart, 216 customers had bought 917 items totaling about $3,100 for the 35-year-old nonprofit, which provides food and shelter for the homeless. The organization also provides counseling, addiction-recovery programs and job training for those in need.

"It's been a great turnout," said event organizer Donna Mickle. "It all came together."

The Bargain Center, on Glenwood Avenue between Brier Creek shopping center and the Durham County line, has 18,000 square feet of retail space and 5,000 square feet for warehousing, store manager Rich Carr said. That's three times the space of the Rescue Mission's Thrift Shop, opened in 2005 on N.C. 55 in Durham. And there's room to expand.

The facility was supposed to house a boat dealer, Mills said. The dealer went bankrupt before moving in, leaving creditors with a building to dispose of at the same time the Mission needed retail space.

Mills wasn't looking to move into Wake County but said the location is great.

"This close to Brier Creek; I couldn't pass it up," he said.

The economic downturn has been a boon for the used-merchandise business, said Mills, who opened the mission in 1974 with his wife, Gail.

"People who used to shop at Wal-Mart now can't shop at Wal-Mart," Mills said. Customers and volunteers spent time Saturday looking through light fixtures, televisions, clothes, shoes, golf clubs, computers, books, CDs, computers - even a drafting table.

"I like it; it's real nice," shopper Tim Haymer said.

Peggy Pickett was there with two granddaughters to support the cause. "Ernie Mills does great work with people," she said.

She left with a child's bike helmet, a pair of flip-flops and a toy for another grandchild.

The store has 15 employees, most of them Rescue Mission residents, Mills said. About 20 other residents are retail trainees.

Lois Poole said she shops at the Rescue Mission stores almost every day.

"You're not only helping yourself," she said, "you're helping other people get their lives on track."

Jim.wise@newsobserver.com or 919-932-2004

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