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VOL. 129 | NO. 87 | Monday, May 5, 2014


Couple Find Business Love in Cordova Thrift Store

By Don Wade

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Keith and Carol Choukalas had fallen in love. Not with each other – that was old business, happened years ago – but with Murray, Ky., home of Murray State University.

They had sent two of their children to MSU and they had a dream of moving to Murray, finding a business to buy, and living out the rest of their days near the lake. They had even bought a house.

But looking back, there were other indicators that foreshadowed a different direction, a higher purpose.

Carol and Keith Choukalas opened Helping People God’s Way Thrift Store in Cordova in October 2011. The business supports 14 ministries in and out of Memphis.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

“We were always ‘pickers,’” Carol said one recent morning surrounded by 6,000 square feet of intentionally cluttered space, otherwise known as Helping People God’s Way Thrift Store in Cordova. “Flea markets, auctions, junk sales.”

One other point about a few years ago: They had sold their landscaping business – “Keith thanks the Lord every day he’s not cutting that grass,” Carol said. “It was 100-plus yards a week” – and it seemed like a good time to plant somewhere new.

The move to Murray, Ky., held great appeal, but they had always been drawn to church and ministries that connected with the inner city. Yet Keith couldn’t see himself as a pastor, Carol says, and she couldn’t imagine herself as a pastor’s wife.

Maybe they were supposed to move to Kentucky.

“I thought it’d be awesome to live by the lake,” she said, “but God just kept shutting doors.”

And opening other doors. The thrift store opened for business on Oct. 3, 2011. Initially, proceeds from their sales went to help five area ministries, including Binghamton Community Church. The number of ministries they now help support has expanded to 14 and stretches well beyond Memphis.

They support a missionary in Costa Rica, Jesus Wept International in Uganda, and also “A Way Out,” which is devoted to helping women break free from the adult entertainment industry.

Since Helping People God’s Way thrift store opened, Carol said they have distributed $100,000 to the partnering ministries.

“God is blessing and it’s growing,” she said.

After starting with five employees, they are now up to eight. They also have volunteers. But the way they do business really hasn’t changed. They’re still open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with extended hours (until 7 p.m.) on Thursdays.

Every first Saturday of the month, everything in the store is 50 percent off. And if you have items you want to donate to the thrift store, no worries. They will come pick them up (call Keith at 483-5289).

“A lot of times, the same day,” Carol said of the pick-ups. “We’ve cleaned out attics. A couple of weeks ago, a family gave us the entire estate from a 1930s house by Sears Crosstown.”

As for what one can find in the thrift store that is located at 7940 Fischer Steel Road, well, just about anything.

“We have a lot of vintage items,” Carol Choukalas said. “Furniture, glassware, clothes, luggage. We even had a 1940s refrigerator that was still working. It got snapped up.”

They have “regular” customers, but their clientele is diverse, too. The “upcycling” crowd has discovered the store as have young people just getting started and maybe looking to restore some old furniture.

“We have Jewish volunteers, a lot of Jewish customers, Muslim customers, dealers that come in that have booths at the antique malls,” she said.

Need something for a sports-minded kid – a batting helmet, a bicycle helmet, a football helmet, shoulder pads, a catcher’s shin guards, roller blades, a tennis racket … they got it.

Know a young couple trying to outfit their first kitchen? This can be the registry location that time forgot – toasters, coffee makers, pots, pans, blenders … .

Want to surprise an album collector with something special, some real vintage vinyl? How about Andy Williams and his album “Hawaiian Wedding Song,” or “Release Me” from Engelbert Humperdinck?

“We really do have something for everybody,” Carol said.

Including a pretty good story: the fiction of life on the lake and the truth of a ministry that is thriving.

“I’d have loved to move,” Keith said, noting they sold the house on the lake. “But no way that’s happening now. Not with the way this thing’s going.”

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