Ole Thrift Shop provides sustainable solution for dorm room ‘stuff’

Student in big room searching through clothing racks.
Throughout the academic year, Oles save a few bucks with Ole Thrift Shop.

College students have a lot of junk. As summer break approaches each year, dormitory trash cans and dumpsters overflow with items that were great at the time of purchase but don’t seem to fit for the car or plane ride home. It’s a lot of waste produced at one time.

In 2013, entrepreneurial St. Olaf College student Corey Ruder ’16 and few classmates found a simple, sustainable resolution to the waste problem. A group of students will collect unwanted items a few weeks prior to the end of the academic year, store them in containers over the summer, and when the students come back in the fall, there will be a big sale. Ruder and her team received the startup funds from the Finstad Entrepreneurial Grant in 2012, successfully marking the birth of Ole Thrift Shop. Ruder then pitched her idea at the Ole Cup, the student entrepreneurial competition hosted by the St. Olaf Piper Center for Vocation and Career. She won a third-place cash prize to help expand operations of Ole Thrift Shop.

Woman holding up an article of clothing. Today, Ole Thrift Shop lives on a sustainable business model that turns one Ole’s junk into another’s treasure, all while saving a few bucks for students, St. Olaf, and the Northfield community. Kalen Doyle ’18, events coordinator for Ole Thrift Shop says, “Students and parents have come up to us with piles of clothes and thanked us for the amount of money they’ve saved.”

Ole Thrift Shop saves more than money for students and parents on a budget. It also saves St. Olaf College Facilities overhead costs for storage, removal, and labor. “They no longer have to bring in an outside trash collection company to remove the wasted clothes, mini-refrigerators, or other things that students don’t want or can’t bring with them,” says James Wheeler ’18, Ole Thrift Shop’s business development coordinator.

Speaking of mini-refrigerators: As most college students know, the smaller cooling units built for dorm life are a hot commodity. Ole Thrift Shop will collect these and sell them at a fraction of a cost. “We had a broken mini-fridge once,” says Doyle. “We were selling it for something like $2. A physics student came up and asked for the price. I told him it was broken, but he said that wasn’t a problem.” And with that, one less appliance went to the landfill.

The Ole Thrift Shop model not only fills a need for St. Olaf students, but provides a service for the surrounding community through excess supply. Anything that doesn’t get sold in the fall is either held for one of the smaller sales throughout the academic year or brought to a local organization that accepts donated items.

Students looking through clothes on a long table. In addition to creating an environmentally friendly service free of charge to departing students and graduates, Ole Thrift Shop is also a sustainable business model. Revenue from each event throughout the year goes back into the business to pay for expenses and expansion goals.

Ole Thrift Shop is committed to giving back to the community, too. The Ole Thrift Shop Sustainability Grant awards $3,000 in grants each year to St. Olaf students or student groups pursuing opportunities they would otherwise would not have the ability to afford.

The Ole Thrift Shop business model is so successful, simplistic, and cost-saving that other schools are beginning to make their own thrift shops. A school in North Carolina has even contacted Ole Thrift Shop for advice on setting up their own operation. “We’ve been considering a set plan to help out other schools who are interested in starting their own Ole Thrift Shop,” says Wheeler.

Whether you need to get rid some clothes and that fridge that won’t fit in your car, get a new jacket at fraction of retail costs, or just want to help save the environment, Ole Thrift Shop is there to help and have some affordable, sustainable fun.