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New England thrift store owner lends helping hand to community

The Christmas spirit of generosity runs year-round at Becky Jacobs' What Not Shop thrift store in New England.

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Becky Jacobs at her thrift shop with her two children Brandon and Alanna, and their dog Kora. (Jason O'Day / The Dickinson Press)

Becky Jacobs runs a thrift store called the What Not Shop in New England that has been a crucial part of the community since it opened in 2013.

Jacobs said about 75% of the clothing she takes in is sent to Orphan Grain Train in Jamestown, and that she’s working on becoming one of their collections centers. Orphan Grain Train, which has a perfect score on Charity Navigator, is a Christian nonprofit that sends food, clothing and medical supplies to those in need in America and abroad. Jacobs, who is also president of the New England Lions Club, said the core mission of her thrift shop is philanthropy.

“We’re not a nonprofit, it’s a business. But we don’t really make money. It’s not our goal, our goal is to help the community,” she said.

Jacobs noted that she did what she could to alleviate the hardships caused by so much being shut down during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We put together bags of candy for the kids who were quarantined. For Christmas, we had Santa Claus last year because nobody would have him because of COVID," she added.

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Jacobs said she actually met her husband Kelly online, through match.com in 2004 and they tied the knot in 2015. Becky and Kelly adopted two children earlier this year because she said she wanted them to have a good home and she’s driven by her Christian faith. Brandon is in third grade and Alanna is in seventh. She also has two other children that stay with her a few nights a week to help out their mother.

“My husband and I are very devout Christians,” she said. “God puts us where he wants us and you have to try to listen to what he’s telling you to do.”

When she can use her store to help those in need, she never hesitates to do so.

“If somebody comes and they need clothes or anything else, if we have it we give it to them. We don’t ask them any questions,” she said. “Ya don’t want them to be too embarrassed to come in here.”

The people of New England have been generous in helping her help others.

“I’m pleasantly surprised at how much the community has helped with donations because we thrive on them. A lot of people don’t realize that donations are important,” Jacobs noted.

Due to the busy holiday season, Jacobs won't be accepting donations until after Christmas when she'll have more time to process them.

“We have to sell some stuff obviously because we have to pay water, lights, insurance and that kind of stuff," she said.

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The What Not Shop in the summer of 2020. (Contributed / Becky Jacobs)

A friendly place

Jacobs said part of the reason she and her husband moved from Dickinson to New England in 2012 was to be in a more tight-knit community.

“I love small towns. I grew up in one in Louisiana. I don’t like cities, even ones the size of Dickinson. To me, you can be more friendly here. You make friends easier. The good thing is you know everybody and everything. The bad thing is, you know everybody and everything,” she said, jokingly. “People will come in here and tell me their whole life story, and I’ve never met them.”

St. Mary’s Catholic Church in New England provides space for the AMEN (the Association to Meet Emergency Needs) Food Pantry of Dickinson to store and distribute food. Jacobs said some people who need food are too afraid to go there because people might see them and know why they went.

Local food banks and government assistance generally don’t provide much beyond food, so she collaborates with the New England Public School and the Dakota West Electric to make sure the less fortunate have toothpaste, deodorant and other basic necessities as well as food and ensures it gets distributed anonymously. She also helps lead the angel tree program.

“When we first moved down here (in 2012), it was just my dream to have a thrift store and help out the community, because not everybody works in the oilfield,” she said. “We need to take care of our neighbors.”

Jacobs also offers sewing services and alterations to repair clothing, as well as floral arrangements. Her store even has a hardware section.

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One of the floral arrangements at Becky Jacobs' thrift shop in New England. (Contributed / Becky Jacobs)

Property tax explosion

Jacobs said the City of New England’s property taxes have risen substantially in recent years, and that’s tough for a charity focused small business. In 2019 alone her rate nearly tripled.

“When I first opened up here, eight years ago, it was $120 a year. Then it went up to $600 a year when they decided to reassess everyone’s (property values). And then with the street project, it’s now about $1,600 a year. On a small business, that’s huge,” she said. “In the winter, our gas bill is $500-600 a month.”

She said these property taxes coupled with the strain of rising gas prices and inflation generally may force her to make some unwanted changes.

“It’s just crazy how high the taxes are here,” Jacobs said. “Now with gas and everything going up, we’re like, okay yeah we probably will have to raise our prices, which isn’t good for anyone. This is supposed to be a place where people can come and shop, and not have to pay an arm and a leg.”

She also said that much like Nate Richter who had a race car in his yard, the city has hassled her about their junk ordinance. She said she’s tried to work with them but they aren’t very cooperative.

“We have metal piled up out there because if we put it in the dumpster it costs our city more money. But if we take it to the dump, it doesn’t. They won’t give me a key. (They say) ‘Well no business should have one.’ But Tom, Harry and everyone else around here has a key,” Jacobs said.

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(Contributed / Becky Jacobs)

Christmas in New England

It takes time to keep the store neat and seasonally festive.

“We’re trying to get ready for Christmas. As you can see it’s still a work in progress. But we try to keep a nice neat shop where people can come in and it looks like a boutique rather than a garage sale that threw up,” she said.

Jacobs said she’d like to see everyone in the community show up for the Hometown Holidays and New England Christmas Celebration this weekend at New England Memorial Hall. The event begins at 11 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 5. The Hometown Holidays Sale will run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and the Kid’s Christmas Store will be open from 11 a.m. until items are sold out.

New England Public School music students will be serving lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. All proceeds from the meal will fund their upcoming trip to Nashville in June. Santa Claus will also be stopping by to visit with children.

Julie Rafferty, who helped organize the event, said they’d love to have more vendors. The fee to be a vendor is $20 per booth. For more information, call 701-209-0169 or 701-590-2930.

Related Topics: DICKINSONNEW ENGLAND
Jason O’Day is a University of Iowa graduate, with Bachelor’s Degrees in Journalism and Political Science. Before moving to Dickinson in September of 2021, he was a general news reporter at the Creston News Advertiser in southwest Iowa. He was born and raised in Davenport, Iowa. With a passion for the outdoors and his Catholic faith, he’s loving life on the Western Edge. His reporting focuses on Stark County government and surrounding rural communities.
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