When Jennie Larsen opened for business in 2009 in the back half of a building on Main Street, it was only supposed to be a three-day project.
But six weeks later, that three-day project turned into a six-days-a-week, full-time endeavor. And 10 years later, she has been able to provide for hundreds of families throughout Lodi, the state and the country.
The Prairie Valley Resale Store has been a staple on Main Street for the last decade, where volunteers work to bring affordable products to the community and Larsen works to provide contributions to children’s dental, eyeglass and handicap equipment programs through her non-profit business.
“We have evolved over the past 10 years into a diversified training, rehabilitation and assistance-driven service,” Larsen said. “Our outreach model is neighbors helping neighbors.”
Over the years, Larsen has been recognized with a Lodi Citizen of the Year Award in 2014, as well as a Columbia County Good Neighbor Award in 2012. Through the work she has done on Main Street, Larsen has helped individuals through medical issues and has helped families through natural disasters.
“When disaster strikes from fire or flooding or personal situations, we provide clothing, household appliances, furniture and emotional support,” she said.
When the floods hit Lodi in March, she offered free clothing, furniture and accessories to those who may have lost possessions. When other communities came under the stress of disaster, such as Cross Plains and Beaver Dam, she was there to help.
When Hurricane Irma came in 2017, she turned to the Lodi community for donations, filled up a U-Haul truck and drove it down to Atlanta, Georgia.
“Even a small, little town like Lodi can do something really big somewhere else,” Larsen said. “3,000 people did something so huge, we filled up a U-Haul; blankets, clothing, shoes, everything.”
Despite all the donations and the ebb and flow of the economy over the past 10 years, Prairie Valley Resale Store still stands. Larsen said second-hand stores often become a necessity when the economy turns for the worst. Although, she said many resale stores have gone through transitions in the past decade.
“As the economy improves, and online purchasing becomes easier, resale stores struggle,” Larsen said. “The corporate resale stores chains — Goodwill, St. Vinny’s — have morphed into more boutiques. The prices have increased dramatically making it impossible for lower income families to shop at.”
However, Larsen said she has been able to maintain low prices over the years, and hears the gratitude from her customers every day. But she said this wouldn’t be possible without her volunteers.
The resale store has volunteers coming from Portage, DeForest, Madison, Waunakee and Sauk City, and they make up 100% of the workforcwwe at the store. Not only do they help run the store, but they will drive people to doctor’s appointments, deliver prescriptions to people’s homes, pick up groceries or take someone to the food pantry.
“All the volunteers have stepped it up a notch in not only working...but they’ve gone over and above by making personal contact with people in need and fulfilling their needs,” Larsen said.
When Larsen started 10 years ago, she said she was an early founder in the Lodi High School Special Education program. She provides jobs, skills, training and life organizational skills for these students by creating tasks for them at the resale store so “they can become vitally employed in the future.”
As Larsen looks back on 10 years in the business, she said the best moments have been the joy on people’s faces when they can leave with clothing and necessities, as well as the gratitude they express.
“I’ve had people say ‘there’s a special place for you in heaven.’ I say ‘no, I’m already living it,’ Larsen said. “Just being there in the store is heaven.”