By Wally Kennedy
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
If Joplin retailers were wondering where all of their customers were Thursday morning, I can tell them: They were shopping at Joplin’s new Goodwill store at 2102 S. Range Line Road.
When I arrived for the ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday morning, there was a line of customers waiting outside. How often do you see that at a thrift store opening? You could hardly find a space to park on their spacious lot.
I was let in before the shoppers to observe the ceremony, which featured a green ribbon. Green is for reopening stores that were destroyed by the tornado. Red ribbons are for stores that are new to the market.
Once inside ... well, I was stunned. This is not your mother’s Goodwill store. It looks like a mini-department store. When David Oliver, the regional manager of Goodwill, said that Goodwill was fulfilling its promise to come back to Joplin bigger and better, he was not joking.
The difference between the old and the new is so striking that when the doors opened, you could see the jaws of shoppers drop. It was like they had died and gone to that great thrift store in the sky — I kid you not. The merchandise was so tastefully decorated and arranged, it was hard to imagine that virtually everything inside was for sale.
Kay Wenrich, of Joplin, had her hands and arms full of toys.
“These are for grandsons,’’ she said. “I like to shop at yard sales. What is great about Goodwill is that it’s all brought here for you. And everybody is so nice here. It seems like family to me.’’
When Debbie LeMasters, of Joplin, walked through the doors, she spied a clerk who had worked in the old store. She walked over and gave the woman a hug — a scene that happened over and over again on Thursday.
“She’s been here for years — that’s why I gave her a hug. I was so glad to see her,’’ LeMasters said.
What makes thrift store shopping so appealing is the hunt for bargains. I couldn’t resist. I picked up a pair of Dockers cargo pants, a Chaps summer shirt and a rainproof jacket. This stuff new would have easily cost more than $100. My price was $15.97, including tax.
This was a big day, too, for Charlie Kuehn, with Four State Homes, the contractor who put the project together in near record time.
“We’re bringing Joplin back one store at a time,’’ Kuehn said.
More importantly — they’re bringing it back right. Well done to all.
Coming to town
HuHot is coming to Joplin. You might be asking: What is a HuHot and should I be worried?
That was my reaction.
HuHot is a Mongolian grill. The people who have visited the restaurant at Battlefield Mall in Springfield have told me that Joplin is in for a real treat.
Here’s the back story. When the 2011 tornado hit, Leron and Mona Wagner, with the HuHot in Springfield, brought a big truckload of food to Joplin to cook for relief workers.
“We fell in love with Joplin,’’ she said. “The people there are amazing. They are survivors. We have been visiting Joplin on and off since then to see the progress. We want to be a part of what’s happening there.’’
The restaurant will be part of the rebuilt Bel-Aire shopping center at 1804 S. Range Line Road. It will be near the LongHorn Steakhouse. The goal is to open the restaurant before the end of June.
In addition to the HuHot in Springfield, the Wagners have another one in Kalispell, Mont. There’s a reason for that. The Wagners are from Montana, and HuHot was birthed in Missoula.
The restaurant initially will employ about 75 people. The general manager is now in training at Springfield. Looking for a job? Apply at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Proceeds from the soft opening will go to charities in Joplin.
If you have news about something happening on Range Line Road or Main Street, call 417-623-3480, ext. 7250; or send an email to email@example.com; or send a fax to Wally Kennedy at 417-623-8598.