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Progress Edition 2022: Mother-daughter duo move thrift store to new location

Julie LaValle and Amy LaValle Hansmann are the sole employees of The Mercantile, a thrift shop that moved from the middle of Brainerd to a location out by Brainerd International Raceway.

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Amy LaValle Hansmann, owner of Merchantile Thrift.talks about items in her store north of Brainerd Thursday, July 21, 2022. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
Steve Kohl / Brainerd Dispatch
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For many people, running a business with a close family member sounds like a nightmare — but not for Julie LaValle and Amy LaValle Hansmann.

LaValle and Hansmann are a mother-daughter duo who decided to open a thrift shop together. As the two sole employees of The Mercantile, the two work hard to find, refurbish and resell items in their shop.

Initially, Hansmann was not involved in the opening at all. Her parents had owned a medical supply store for a long time.

“The medical supply store was very intense, very stressful,” LaValle said. “You have to be open and you’re on 24-hour call. You don't get to call in sick if somebody's oxygen machine breaks down.”

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Outside the Merchantile Thrift store at 5486 Pioneer Trail north of Brainerd Thursday, July 21, 2022. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
Steve Kohl / Brainerd Dispatch

After 14 years working in that stressful environment, LaValle and her husband sold the store and didn’t really know what to do next. They eventually found and bought an empty building on Washington Street with the intention of fixing it up and reselling it. However, LaValle would decide to keep the building to pursue owning a thrift shop.

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“I went into a thrift store somewhere and thought, ‘We could do that,’” LaValle said. “We decided to keep it and we had the business there for five years.”

After seeing her mom in business, Hansmann decided she wanted to help. She wanted to leave her job and at the time, it just made sense for her to begin working with her mom.

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The duo began working together, despite their polar opposite approaches to thrifting. Hansmann is the type of person who could spend hours in one store, making sure she saw every item that was available. She is also drawn to more unusual and quirky items her mom doesn’t always understand.

LaValle is quite the opposite. She is the type of person who likes to be in and out of a store and doesn’t want to waste time.

The differences carry over to work style as well. Hansmann likes to focus on the aesthetics and design of the store. She is constantly rearranging the merchandise and making sure that everything is as visually appealing as it can be. LaValle is more focused on the business side of things. She is in charge of all the bookkeeping.

Even though their personalities can clash at times, the two enjoy working together and the space is big enough for them to take a break if needed.

“The hardest thing is we both have kind of different working styles,” Hansmann said. “So I am more ADHD and all over the place. I'm really into the visual and how everything looks. She is much better at finding things that are actually useful to sell, things people want, whereas I tend to be out buying all that just weird stuff that I think is so neat. Nobody needs it, but it's great.”

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Jewelry, buttons, and ornate bottles can be found at Merchantile Thrift located north of Brainerd Thursday, July 21, 2022.
Steve Kohl / Brainerd Dispatch

When COVID-19 hit in spring of 2020, Hansmann opted to not return to work for a few months due to an autoimmune disorder that puts her at high risk. By the fall of 2020, the pandemic was so stressful, the duo decided it would be best to focus on moving locations.

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The two knew they needed a larger space and had already decided to move locations, so the pandemic seemed like the perfect time to start. They closed their shop on Washington Street and began to make plans for their new shop out by Brainerd International Raceway.

“It took all winter and the next spring to get this building built because it wasn’t here before,” Hansmann said. “So then there were many, many months again where we were here but nobody else was here so I could actually come to work.”

The two began to design and decorate their new store with the help of their husbands. Even though the husbands aren’t officially employees, they do help out quite a bit. They help with restocking and moving large items around the store, but it’s hard to get them behind the counter.

One thing that sets The Mercantile apart from other thrift stores in the area is it does not sell clothing. If clothes do happen to be in the store, it’s one piece they think will sell and is worth buying.

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Owner Amy LaValle Hansmann show a ceramic camera Thursday, July 21, 2022, at Merchantile Thrift. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
Steve Kohl / Brainerd Dispatch

“We don't really do clothing at all,” Hansmann said. “If we come across something occasionally that we think is cute, we'll put it out. For the most part, we don't do clothes.”

Even without clothing, the duo tries to find something for everyone. There are a variety of items found by Hansmann and LaValle, but also by friends and their families. The duo have a lot of people send them pictures of items they see while out and about to help them restock.

In addition to the help they get from others for restocking, the pair take a couple months in the winter to restock things themselves. LaValle and her husband leave town during January and February, which gives them an opportunity to look for items to resell.

Ever since moving to the new location, business has continued to expand and different items sell better. Toys have increased in sales at the new location when they never sold very well at the previous spot.

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The traffic construction on Highway 371 this summer has also helped to draw in customers. Since traffic is often slowed or even stopped, many drivers and passengers are looking off the road and have noticed the shop.

“We're the last turn really before the construction and people have told us, ‘I didn't know you were here before but I was driving slower because of the road construction,’” said LaValle.

The Mercantile has a large assortment of different and unique items. However, the store’s interior is sorted in a way that makes items easier to find despite the wide variety.

LaValle and Hansmann just want to ensure there is something available for anyone who might happen to walk in the door.

For Your Information

Business: The Mercantile.

City: North of Baxter.

Employees: Two.

Interesting Fact: Amy LaValle Hansmann has a large interest in the unique and vintage jewelry collection in the store. She describes it as “her pride and joy.”

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The new offices also will provide staff with improved work spaces to facilitate internal and external collaboration and communication, while providing the company with further room for growth, the company reported.

SARA GUYMON, Brainerd Dispatch, staff writer, may be reached at 218-855-5851 or sara.guymon@brainerddispatch.com

Sara Guymon recently joined the Brainerd Dispatch as a staff writer.
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