Friday, March 25, 2011

After 22 years, a modern miner retires

Gold Mine thrift store Manager Jan Mason steps down today

Express Staff Writer

After 22 years at the Gold Mint thrift store, Jan Mason retires today, March 25. Photo by David N. Seelig

It's not uncommon to hear Gold Mine shoppers say it is the best thrift store anywhere. What makes the Gold Mine so treasured by tourists and locals alike is the quality and condition of the merchandise. For the last 22-plus years, store Manager Jan Mason has put a great deal of pride and attention to detail into the unusual Ketchum thrift store, a main source of revenue for The Community Library in Ketchum.

"It's because of the generosity of this amazing town that gives us such incredible high-end items and things to put out in the Gold Mine store," Mason said. "We try not to look like a thrift store. We want to make the Gold Mine a good experience."

Mason said she always thought such high-end donations would end some day, but they never have.

"If we can't help someone, we try to turn them on to someone who can," she said. "We're all in this together."

Today, March 25, Mason will retire from her post at the Gold Mine. In honor of her 22 years of service, a retirement party will take place at the Community Library from 6-8 p.m. Attendees are encouraged to wear their favorite Gold Mine outfit.

The Gold Mine is an integral part of Ketchum culture. The store is where party outfits, Halloween costumes, sports gear, home furnishings and many household items are found as treasures. On any given day, a shopper can score brand-new clothing from Icebreaker or designer collectibles including vintage Bogner ski wear.

"People are proud to say they got things at the Gold Mine," Mason said. "This includes men and women who can shop and buy anything they want."

In addition, the Gold Mine makes shopping a pleasure with special cashmere sales or events such as the upcoming Spring Sale on Wednesday, April 6. It's not just about clothes for the seasonal spring sale—expect to see all things related to spring, including art work.

"It's a whole fresh look," she said. "We have a big list of people with requests, and since we need the space, we let customers know when something comes in they are looking for."

Mason said a big part of working at the Gold Mine is to make people happy. In addition, the Gold Mine has a return policy with cash back. A customer can make a return within a week of the sale with a receipt.

"We like our merchandise that much," she said. "We want it back."

In November 1954, Clara Spiegel, Jeanne Lane, Peggy Engl and Anita Gray decided to build a library in Ketchum. They wanted it to be a free library entirely supported by private funding.

At that time, the 17 founding directors of what was called the Community Library Association of Ketchum, Sun Valley and Triumph contributed a dollar each to the treasury. The decision was then made to start a thrift store in order to build the library's treasury.

At the first meeting for the library, held on Feb. 25, 1955, the Articles of incorporation and bylaws were ratified. Membership was $1 a year. Spiegel and Clara Cope were elected to find a property to rent to start the thrift store. The site was a log miner's shack, one of several, on Washington Street between Third and Fourth Avenues. The cabin rented for $5 a month. All merchandise was donated, repaired and cleaned by library volunteers. The founding directors pledged to donate at least two hours a week to the library or the Gold Mine.

The store opened on April 12, 1955. The first day's receipts were more than $100. Michael Engl, son of founding director Peggy Engl said, "Children my age weren't allowed to wear out or even grow fully out of our clothes before they were whipped [off] and taken straight to the thrift shop."

More fundraising to build the library included bridge parties, slide show presentations, musical events, staged melodramas, fashion shows and garden sales. According to The Community Library regional history department, musicians union Local 474 donated their talents for a series of tea dances.

On July 12, 1957, the association broke ground for the library on Walnut Street with a treasury of $24,000. The land has been donated by the Union Pacific Railroad. In early 1958, the Gold Mine expanded to take over all four cabins on Washington Avenue in Ketchum. In 1963, it was relocated to the back room of the library on Walnut Street. When the new Community Library was opened on March 12, 1977, at 415 Spruce Street, the Gold Mine expanded to five days a week for operations at the Walnut Street location, where it exists today.

The Gold Mine is more than just the retail store on Walnut Street. Items are also housed and refurbished in a 3,400-square-foot basement across the alley behind the Gold Mine. It's here that seasonal items are separated and processed for sales.

As Mason leaves her position to Barry, the store enters a new age of social media, including eBay, Facebook and Twitter.

"Certain items need more eyes," Mason said. "We just want to dabble on eBay. We want the gold to stay in the Gold Mine."

Mason said Barry is very interested in alerting people and making the Gold Mine more attractive through social media.

"People move into town all the time," she said. "We want the Gold Mine to be more obvious. We have great music, it has friendly people and it's a nice place to shop."

Mason said she and her husband will enjoy retirement with plans to camp and see Idaho.

"I'm so lucky," she said. "I'm not just saying that. The library has been wonderful to me."

Sabina Dana Plasse:

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