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Two Americas: When thrift stores are the best option in your neighborhood

Troost39 thrift store.jpeg
Posted at 2:00 PM, Oct 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-26 19:44:11-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — You've likely heard of food deserts, places in a community where people don't have easy access to a grocery store, but what about access to another basic need — like affordable clothing?

People love a good thrift store find. But there's a difference between shopping for a special item, and shopping because it's your best, or only, option.

Troost39 is a thrift store just steps away from the second-busiest bus stop in Kansas City, Missouri, at East 39th Street and Troost Avenue. It's one of the last places in the neighborhood to buy clothes.

"It's really nothing else in the inner city that's real close,” customer Carla Otto said. “Plus it's on the bus line if you don't have a car."

"There's no Kmarts or anything like that around," James Loman, another customer, said.

Actually, there are no Kmarts left in Kansas or Missouri, but let's use Target and Walmart as examples. The closest Target to this neighborhood is 7 miles away in Mission. The closest Walmart is 5.5 miles away in Roeland Park.

Walmart Targets & Bus Times 1920x1080.jpg

That's not typical for other parts of the metro, where such stores are more common.

Metro Targets & Walmarts 1920x1080.jpg

"Unless you shop online, and have a credit card, you're very limited," Troost39 customer D’onica Lovelace said. “Or you go to the Plaza, and you're spending quite a bit of money for a shirt."

"We had about three to four other thrift shops on Troost, but I think this is the only one left," Charone Simpson said.

Simpson is a regular Troost39 shopper. She told KSHB 41 News that for people who live in the neighborhood, and who don't have a car, the prospect of buying clothes is about more than money.

"Sometimes, somebody might want a new pair of pants, or a new dress, and not unless you have a car to get to the mall, you have to go to the mall or something like that," Simpson said. “Your whole day (is) gone just to get a pair of pants."

That choice means Troost39 has a big group of loyal customers, according to one long-time employee.

“We try not to turn anybody away at all, because you just never know where you might end up," Dianne Fletcher, who’s worked at the store for years, said.

“They literally come in barefoot,” Troost39 owner Toni Wurth said. “They literally come in draped in a blanket because they have lost their clothing by some means or other.”

Wurth and her husband bought the store four years ago, and consider it a ministry. She said it's changed the way she thinks about clothes, and clothes shopping.

“We see the need for someone to take me seriously as a customer,” Wurth said. “Some of our people who come in here, if they were to go into a store on the Plaza, they might not be as welcome. It has made me appreciate more how important clothing, costuming oneself for the day, is for people.”

Not just for vanity. Clothes don't make the man, but they might, customer Timothy Patterson said, get the job.

“When I would do jobs, and I wasn't able to cut my hair, and I didn't dress right, I would lose jobs, I would lose opportunities,” Patterson said. “I would come here, spend $5, couple outfits, go to the same thing, get a different response.”

Troost39 also has vouchers available for customers who are most in need.

The thrift store has been lending a hand for more than a decade. It was previously operated by St. Vincent Depaul Catholic Church.