After opening a first location in Ferndale last February, family-owned-and-operated thrift store Mystery Thrift opened a second location in downtown Bellingham on Sept. 3, with a focus on charity, affordability and sustainability. Kyle Weiss, his wife Nicole and their daughter Avery own the business, while other members of the family work or volunteer within it.
Co-owner Kyle Weiss was hoping to land a larger second location in Ferndale, but the best building for the business was on Commercial Street in downtown Bellingham. The building will soon be shared with We Care, another donation-based thrift store.
Weiss and his family have been hobby treasure hunters for the last decade or so, selling items on eBay, Poshmark, Amazon and Facebook Marketplace. This inspired them to organize pop-up shops and weekend sales, until they were able to take over a building filled with loads of eBay inventory the previous owner had left behind. They held weekend sales to move the inventory until they could find a permanent storefront.
“We ended up just searching for a building and found a little one in Ferndale…got it up and running and didn't know what to expect,” Weiss said.
The Ferndale community welcomed Mystery Thrift with open arms and donations poured in – so much so that they outgrew the building.
“We always wanted to have a low price, kind of a garage-sale-price thrift store,” Weiss said.
Over the course of his thrift experience, Weiss has seen the prices of second-hand items rise over the years, especially at chain thrift stores like Goodwill and Value Village. Those high prices motivated him to make his store a little different, with the goal of a garage sale price point and giving back to the community by donating a percentage of monthly profits to charity.
The business depends on donations in order to keep prices down, although Weiss said he still likes to source items at garage sales and flea markets.
Mystery Thrift has donated to several organizations including the pet adoption group Rescued Hearts, Ferndale Food Bank, local kids camps and Restorative Community Coalition, an organization that helps people leaving jail to reintegrate back into society. In addition, Mystery Thrift sometimes partners with an individual in the community in need of help.
“It doesn't have to be a nonprofit. It can be a person who has been in the hospital and needs a heart transplant,” Weiss said.
September’s charity donation went to someone in that situation.
Thanks to these partnerships, Mystery Thrift is also low-waste because almost everything that’s donated has a place to go. At first, Weiss said they thought they’d need a dumpster, but they’ve been able to keep garbage to a minimum.
“We just have a regular sized garbage can in Ferndale … we re-donate some things that we don't think we can sell,” Weiss said. “We have groups that we give socks and gloves to, different groups that work with the homeless that coordinate to be able to utilize everything.”
Emma McGreevy, a leader for Western Washington University’s Students for Zero Waste club, said this focus on waste reduction is one benefit of shopping at second hand stores like Mystery Thrift.
“Buying second hand is one of the best ways to reduce your personal carbon footprint and lessen the exploitation of garment workers,” McGreevy said. “More thrift stores mean greater access to second hand goods and donation locations. If a community is buying more second hand, they are lessening the city's carbon footprint.”
She added that keeping things small-scale can also help reduce waste.
“If you’re donating, start with clothing swaps, then go to local thrift stores and then donate to big thrift stores like Goodwill,” McGreevy said.
Bellingham has many thrift stores, but it seems as though there’s always room for more. Mystery Thrift stands out for its content in addition to its prices. Western Washington University student and Mystery Thrift customer Jenna Finlay said she was expecting “more of a niche, antique vibe.”
“But then I was like, ‘oh cool, this is more of a catchall place,’” Finlay said. “I think that having a place where college kids can go to get something that works within budget is going to be really good.”
Regardless of the competition, Weiss said Mystery Thrift is determined to stick to its values.
“The goal is to be able to keep the doors open and still keep the price reasonable,” Weiss said.
Zoe Wiley (she/her)
(email@example.com) is a news reporter for The Front and a combined environmental studies and journalism major at WWU. Her reporting interests include local business news, social issues, the environment and the arts. She enjoys illustration arts, photography, hiking and running.