By Joseph Robertia
It’s hard to imagine someone stealing from those who help the less fortunate, but that is exactly what has been happening at Bishop’s Attic thrift store on the Kenai Spur Highway in Soldotna, prompting an increase in numerous security measures and a change of store location next month.
“Some people don’t consider it stealing, they consider it Dumpster diving, but it is stealing — from us and the people we could help,” said store manager LeeAnn Barenz.
Dumpster diving is the practice of sifting through commercial or residential waste to find discarded items that are still useful. However, the items dropped off at the thrift store have been donated, not thrown away.
“It’s stealing from our employees’ salaries and stealing from the charities we give to,” Barenz said.
Bishop’s Attic, run under the local Catholic Church, uses funds generated from sales in the store to financially support several local organizations, such as the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank, ABC Crisis Pregnancy Center, and Love INC. The store also provides support for educational scholarships and other community service projects as determined by its board of directors.
Nearly all of these funds are earned through the sales of their donated items, which is what made the pilfering as distasteful as it was illegal, according to Barenz.
“People were coming at night and taking a lot of the good stuff, breaking other things they didn’t steal in the process, or leaving behind ripped-open bags of clothes,” she said, referring to the area at the rear of the store where a small cabin was left open for people to drop off items after business hours.
It was a lack of items accumulating that first drew the staff’s attention to a possible problem. Apparently, according to Barenz, the visits by those taking, rather than leaving, items were not few and far between.
“It seemed like about a month went by and we just weren’t getting as much as usual,” she said.
A security camera was installed, but someone — possibly one of the would-be thieves — knocked it down.
A break in the case came when a woman making more than one trip in the same night to donate goods noticed something suspicious.
“The woman had already donated a load of stuff — kitchen items, clothes and other things. She had gone home to get a second load and when she returned, there was a guy here loading up all the stuff she had already dropped off,” Barenz said.
The police were called and an arrest made. The thrift store’s board and staff took aggressive action to prevent future thefts.
“We have a new camera set up, lights and a watchman now,” she said. “It’s crazy. We’ll see five or six people a night drive up, but then the light will get switched on and they’ll speed off.”
The thrift store has long been struggling with dealing with more items than it has space to display and sell its donated goods. So the store is preparing to move next month to a much larger building at Binkley Street and Wilson Lane behind Central Emergency Services, in the building where the Polaris dealership used to be.
“The building will give us much more room, it’s almost twice as big as this store, and the new place will be fenced in,” Barenz said. “We start moving over there on the first and should be completely out of here by the 15th.”