Thrift store theft yet another setback

The idea was to help people, to take over a thrift store that needed more than a little tender loving care, bring the business back to health and be able to generate a little money for the Lifelong AIDS Alliance. But following a robbery at the Sunshine House on 12th Avenue, Kathy Bergquist finds herself in need of help.

The new owner of the Sunshine House thrift shop, Bergquist finds herself struggling to stay afloat following a July 31 break-in.

The burglary has added to the challenges she faced when she purchased the thrift store from its original owner last February. Her mother, Bonnie Crone, herself a former thrift store owner, knew that the shop at 1718 12th Avenue might be available.

Sunshine House has been around since 1994. Its original owner was suffering from a life-threatening illness and needed to get out. Intrigued by the idea of running the shop, Bergquist pulled out all her savings and bought the place. It was a good fit, one worth driving 100 miles each day to and from her north Snohomish County home.

She soon learned that she'd taken on a larger challenge than initially expected. Sunshine House was in fairly desperate financial straits, and Bergquist inherited its debt. There was a large, outstanding tax bill. The business's bank account was $900 in the hole. No money had been sent to its designated charities in more than two years.

"The place was a real mess. I found out it had a really bad reputation," Bergquist said.

A dispute with the former owner almost immediately after she acquired Sunshine House placed an added burden. Bergquist ended up losing the van she thought came with the thrift store. Having to give it up made picking up donations a particular challenge.

Bergquist, who works six days a week at Sunshine House, has had periodic staffing help from volunteers. She suspects one such volunteer led to the break-in.

In early July a man walked in from a prison work-release program and asked for work. Bergquist was able to offer a volunteer position which included store vouchers that could be used for clothing. The man had a lengthy history of drug and legal problems, had been in jail for four years. Bergquist gave the man a chance.

"We started butting heads almost immediately. He wasn't doing what he was supposed to do. I was pretty sure he started using drugs again as well," she said.

He quickly became confrontational and verbally abusive, making several threats to Bergquist. The man was also caught lying to his case worker. On July 30, Bergquist felt she had to ask him to leave. She later discovered her car keys had been stolen.

The next day, at around 10:15 in the morning, Bergquist arrived expecting to see her car gone. Her relief at finding it in the back parking area was short lived. She saw that the fans had been pushed in and the back door was open. The alarm was going off.

Inside, the store was a disaster. Showcase glass was broken, telephone and electrical wires had been cut, furniture was tossed around. The cash register's doors were broken and hanging open. Among the items stolen were old coins, jewelry and an expensive collectable knife set. Also taken were several small TVs and CD players, as well as $700 from the cash register and Bergquist's laptop, which contained all the financial information pertaining to Sunshine House.

It was a tough blow. Rent on the space was due the day after the theft.

Police officers told her that the former volunteer was certainly a prime suspect, at least as far as telling someone about the thrift store and suggesting they break in. He has since turned himself in, is back in jail but has denied any involvement with the theft.

Bergquist has spent the last 10 days sorting through the physical mess and dealing with things like insurance paperwork. She remains open and is determined to continue. Getting the business back to profitability was meant to be a six-month process. Bergquist is guessing that the theft set that plan back another six months.

In the past, Bergquist has run a day-care center for special needs children. She volunteered at Childhaven for several years. Her brother suffers from a serious illness. The idea of running a thrift store and raising money for charity feels like a calling to her, and she vows to get caught up and bring Sunshine House back to health. Her goal is to start sending money to the Lifelong AIDS Alliance, her designated beneficiary, by early next year.

"I love this little store. I'm trying to rebuild this place, let people know it's still here. When this first happened I thought I'd have to close. But when I get up in the morning I feel really good about what I'm doing," she said.

Doug Schwartz is the editor of the Capitol Hill Times. He can be reached at or 461-1308.

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