Crowded Closet celebrates 40 years in Iowa City

Crowded Closet — photo by Zak Neumann

Forty years ago this month, a small group of Mennonite women opened Crowded Closet Thrift Store in Iowa City. What they hoped to achieve is reflected in the motto on the sign at the Gilbert Court store: “A world of difference.”

Proceeds from Crowded Closet go to public service organizations, including Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), which sponsors relief and development programs around the world. Since opening in 1978, Crowded Closet has raised $8 million for the organizations it supports.

The store was modeled on a Mennonite-run thrift store founded years earlier in Canada, according to Carey Miller, executive director of Crowded Closet. Instead of collecting clothes to be sent to those in need, a group of four Canadian women decided it would be more effective to collect and sell clothes and other items, then donate the money instead.

“And that’s what happened here in 1978,” Miller said. “They decided to give a shot, hoping to make a small difference. But they ended up making a big difference.”

Crowded Closet strives to make a difference locally as well, by supporting other nonprofits in Iowa City.

“We have a strong partnership with the Crisis Center of Johnson County, the Domestic Violence Intervention Program and Shelter House,” Miller said. “And when other helping agencies have needs, we try to work with them, too.”

To celebrate 40 years in business, Crowded Closet is hosting a five-day celebration with different sales each day.

Monday: 40 percent off on clothing

Tuesday: 40 percent off on housewares

Wednesday: 40 percent off on vintage clothing.

Thursday: 50 percent off items (“The third Thursday of the month is always 50 percent off, and we didn’t cut it down to 40 percent just to fit in with the rest of the week,” Miller explained.)

Friday: 25 percent off in the gift shop. (The gift shop is the only part of Crowded Closet in which the inventory isn’t donated. All the items are purchased by the store on a fair-trade basis.)

Those with ’70s fashion-sense can get an even bigger discount on vintage clothing, if they are willing to strut down the catwalk. There will be 1978-themed fashion show at 1 p.m. on Wednesday. Anyone who wants to participate should purchase their vintage clothes by noon that day, and let the staff know they are ready for their fashion model moment. The vintage clothes purchased for the fashion show will be 75 percent off.

Crowded Closet — photo by Zak Neumann

Crowded Closet has changed over the past four decades, going for a small, all-volunteer effort to having five full-time staffers with 250 volunteers. Another big change will be coming early next year, when the store moves to space in the former Kmart at 851 Highway 6 East. The thrift store has been at its 1213 Gilbert Court location since 1997, and Miller said they are looking forward to having more space after the move.

“Currently we have two facilities — the actual shop and a storage building across the street, where are recyclables are processed,” he explained. “Once we move, we’ll have everything under the same roof for the first time.”

Crowded Closet is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.