The line stretched all along the side of the building.

The parking lot was full.

And, after a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. Friday, hundreds of bargain-hunting shoppers poured in to the new Salvation Army Thrift Store, at 2424 Oakton Street.

“I like to save money,” said Gloria Birger.

Birger and her daughter Beckee ended up with a shopping cart full of holiday presents for about $150. At retail (instead of re-sale), they figured the price tag would have been double that amount.

Beckee (L) and Gloria Birger.

One of the toys they purchased was a child’s kitchen, which Beckee noted “was not even opened. It was still in the box.”

The 20,000-square-foot store is located in the former Gordon’s Food Services building. The Salvation Army moved here after closing its much smaller facility in Skokie over the summer.

Another shopper, who would only give her first name (Angie) was first in line for the doors to open.

Angie said she was a regular at the Skokie location. (A Salvation Army store on Chicago Avenue in Evanston closed about a decade ago).

Having access to a store with reasonably priced items such as clothing and housewares, she said, is “very important. There are lots of bargains and good stuff.”

Prices are often 70% below retail, or even more.

“Especially now with inflation,” said Salvation Army Major Troy Barker, people are looking for deals.

Barker said that, for example, “a $100 pair of jeans can go for $19.99.”

While many shoppers go to thrift stores because they don’t have the income to buy elsewhere, searching for quality bargain items has lately become trendy for those who could easily afford to buy new.

“You’ll see Mercedes’ and Jaguars” in the parking lot, Barker noted.

“Now it’s become really cool,” said Leora Conway, the Salvation Army’s director of business.

“The younger generation,” Conway noted, is discovering thrift stores as an alternative to “fast fashion” outlets, where items sometimes shrink after several washings.

Plus, not everything at a thrift store is previously used. Conway said some businesses or individuals donate goods which are still in the box, or clothing which still has the tags. (Donated items can be dropped off at the new store).

The shoppers, she said, “are getting amazing deals and quality items.”

At this new site, and at the 18 other Salvation Army Thrift Stores in the Chicago/Northwest Indiana region, the Army, a religious-based social service agency, uses profits to fund the organization’s Adult Rehabilitation Centers (ARC).

Demetrius Mabry said the Army’s Chicago rehab center rescued him from “rock bottom.”

“14-years ago I was on drugs pretty bad,” Mabry told Evanston Now.

The U.S. Navy veteran ended up in the Chicago ARC for its residential substance abuse recovery program, which Mabry said also helped him with job/life skills and spiritual support.

After completing the program, the Salvation Army hired him for a job in a donation center.

Mabry gradually worked his way up, to the point that he is now the Director of Operations for the Chicago region.

Mabry said with pride that he is the perfect example of the thrift stores’ motto: “Shop Second Chances.”

The store’s motto has special meaning for Demetrius Mabry.

The donated items receive a second chance at use, and those in the ARC program receive a second chance at living.

“It’s everything to me,” Mabry said.

“I eat, breathe, live, and sleep this. This is my life.”

And as for the shoppers, the Grand Opening was, well, pretty grand.

As Gloria Birger put it, “We’ll be back.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.