Kiwanis Centennial 1921-2021

The Kiwanis Thrift Sale History


May 1, 2020

A small seed and an innovative idea, planted by a few, and tended by many over multiple decades, can yield far greater benefits than expected.

The Downtown Kiwanis Club of Ann Arbor began as a small Club chartered in 1921 with 60 members. Located in the college town of the University of Michigan, it has benefited from that affiliation. With the steady ebb and flow of students, staff, and those working for businesses affiliated with the University, there is a strong demand for household goods, furniture and all of the items students and others need to set up their households. Taking advantage of that fact, the Kiwanis Club of Ann Arbor began a fund-raising rummage sale in 1927 and was proud to have sold $2,467 worth of goods in its first year. As the Club now nears its 100th anniversary, one has to think the founders would be more than surprised to learn the Kiwanis Thrift Sale grossed over one million dollars in fiscal year 2018-2019 from sale of donated merchandise. And from the proceeds of Thrift Sales, Kiwanis has given more than $7,500,000 in gifts and grants over its span of years.

That stunning growth and transition has been gradual. What began as a one-day sale in 1927, developed into quarterly two-day sales located in vacant store-front locations in Ann Arbor during the period of 1936 through 1965. Ann Arbor Kiwanis purchased its own downtown Ann Arbor building for $60,000 in 1966 from the Estate of a deceased Member. In a move to reduce its costs of operations, and so increase its ability to give to the community, a non-profit charitable foundation was formed in 1969 to conduct the Thrift Sales, take advantage of the Michigan property tax exemption for charitable organizations, and allow charitable income tax deductions for donors of goods and funds. Kiwanis Thrift Sales were conducted first once a year, then twice a year, and then three times a year until 1988, when weekly thrift sales for three hours each began every Saturday morning, with sale days soon expanding to Friday and Saturday mornings. Nearing the year 2000, Kiwanians saw businesses move out of downtown, parking become more troublesome, and many customers become reluctant to venture downtown to attend the Sale. Increased warehouse and showroom space were needed to house the growing inventory of furniture and other merchandise. A second Thrift Sale location was established temporarily in a donated warehouse, followed by the purchase of a warehouse and office complex in Scio Township, just west of Ann Arbor, in December of 2014.

In 2017 the Kiwanis Club of Ann Arbor Foundation sold its downtown building, using a portion of the sale proceeds to pay off the mortgage on its current location. As a result, it now owns and operates a debt-free 123,000 square foot building with areas for sales floor, warehouse, and offices. The complex includes four tenant-occupied spaces to supplement and diversify the Foundation’s income, with the rental income used to support the expenses of the building and the fund-raising business of Kiwanis. In this new complex, approximately 70,000 square feet of space is dedicated to the Kiwanis Thrift Sale. Unlike the downtown location, the new site has a parking lot with some 312 free parking spaces. Ironically, the Thrift Sale has been so successful that even that lot fills up with cars on sale days. Moving from its downtown location was not a cure-all for parking issues, but we find being very busy is a good problem to have.

As the Kiwanis Thrift Sale transitioned from downtown Ann Arbor to its current building, additional members and volunteers were needed, recruited and trained. Kiwanis efforts in sales activities expanded to include the Circle K Club from the University of Michigan and the Key Clubs from local high schools which the Kiwanis Club of Ann Arbor sponsored at that time. In fiscal year 2018-2019, 38,000 hours of volunteer time were dedicated to the sales efforts as a wide variety of customers “discovered” the new location. The Kiwanis Club and Foundation now have 133 Members to draw from for work efforts and 180 Volunteers. Over two thirds of these Members and Volunteers regularly donate their time and effort to prepare for and work the Kiwanis Thrift Sale. On a typical Friday, as many as 120 customers are in line to enter the building at opening in search of treasures on newly stocked shelves, all at modest prices intended to make purchases possible for those in need, or those who simply love thrift sales. And as to the goods which are sold, Kiwanis does not buy its inventory, rather it receives donations of saleable goods from individuals, businesses, and others in what ends up being a community effort of recycling and repurposing used and new merchandise. As a result, the Kiwanis Thrift Sale now has an ever-increasing source of goods, customer base, and revenue stream with which to fund its charitable purposes.
The Kiwanis Thrift Sale is currently open on Fridays and Saturdays from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. Gross sales average over $20,000 each weekend. To date, the highest number of transactions in this 8-hour time period is 1,142 sales, and the highest number of items sold in one four-hour day is 10,473. In addition, seasonal sales focus on specific holidays or events, such as the return of students to local universities each fall. The annual Christmas Toy Sale event in December 2018 brought in over $30,000 on just one weekend in the eight hours in which the Thrift Sale was opened. ­

Owning one’s own building free of debt and conducting successful sales results in not just increased income, but also in an increased ability to benefit the community through gifting. Selling goods is simply a means to the end of giving that money to the Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County area community. In the fiscal year ended September 30, 2019, the Kiwanis Club of Ann Arbor Foundation through its fund raising and Thrift Sale provided money and merchandise to the greater Ann Arbor Community as follows:


$199,000 to support local children and family agencies and services through the annual Kiwanis Club of Ann Arbor Foundation cash grant process. Note: The budget for cash gifts has increased to $300,000 for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

$83,000 of goods in the Kiwanis Voucher Program providing free household goods to 445 individuals and families in need.
$77,700 in direct gifts of free furniture, merchandise, and supplies to other non-profit organizations to support their thrift sales and charitable purposes.
$75,000 in scholarships to college bound high school graduates, with a current emphasis on full ride scholarships for students at Washtenaw Community College via the Finish Line scholarship program.
$40,000 in support of summer camperships.

But while these gifts and grants are money and goods primarily from the Thrift Sale, the Kiwanis Foundation has also made significant gifts and given monetary support to others by means of individual member donations it has received and non-sale funds, including over $211,000 given to Kiwanis International and UNICEF programs to Eliminate Maternal Neonatal Tetanus and to end Iodine Deficiency Disorders. Our members over the last nine years provided $92,000 to the Haiti Nursing Training Foundation to establish and support a school to educate nurses. And $136,800 was distributed by the Warm the Children Program in 2019, as a Foundation sponsored program supported by the community to provide winter coats and clothing for children in need.

As sales increase and the transition and construction costs of the new location diminish, these gifting amounts are expected to rise. Financial benefits to the families and children in our community delivered by the Kiwanis Club of Ann Arbor Foundation from sales proceeds and members alone was over $644,000 in the most recent fiscal year.

What began as a modest rummage sale in donated vacant store fronts boot-strapped its way into first a 24,340 square foot building in downtown Ann Arbor, and then into a 123,000 square foot complex in Scio Township west of Ann Arbor. By effort and foresight, Kiwanis first acquired a downtown Ann Arbor building, and then harvested the equity from the sale of that building to acquire a business center which allows it to significantly increase its ability to fund charitable giving. All of this has been accomplished through the leadership of the Foundation and Club and the time and selfless efforts of local Kiwanis Members and Volunteers.

Not a bad yield from the $2,467 worth of seeds planted 93 years ago!

Written by: Dana A. Dever, President 2020
Kiwanis Club of Ann Arbor
Kiwanis Club Foundation of Ann Arbor