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HULL, Iowa -- The newest retail site in downtown Hull has given life to the old bowling alley. Step in to the Bargain Alley Thrift Store, a monstrosity covering 9,800 square feet, and you won't find strikes, spares and burgers as you might have years ago at the Family Bowl & Cafe, founded by the late Clayton and Mae Vis in 1976.

What will you come across? All sorts of clothing, furniture, home deco and more offered at bargain prices; cleaned, marked and presented for sale by staffers and volunteers seeking to boost the fortunes of Western Christian High School.

This store, after all, is the Wolfpack baby.

"The school board one year ago kind of brainstormed about seeking out additional sources of revenue," said Wes Fopma, Western Christian director of development. "I began doing some research and found several thrift stores that support their projects and operations."

The long-running S.O.S. Thrift Store benefiting St. Mary's Catholic Schools in Storm Lake, Iowa, would be one example.

Fopma then joined former principal Dan Barkel (now superintendent of schools at MMCRU) in seeking locations in Hull for a possible thrift store venture. They came to the old Family Bowl & Cafe, which had been closed for more than three years. The building was owned at the time by Iowa State Bank.

Fopma was soon able to make a presentation to three principals involved with the bank. Those men, in turn, received approval from the bank's board of directors to give the site to Western Christian for the purpose of opening a thrift store. The transaction, as it were, closed last December 31.

On Jan. 18, Western Christian volunteers began to demo the interior of the structure, a portion of the project that took 600 to 700 hours. Western Christian High School student Dolan Van De Stroet then created a design for the store's layout that he shared with subcontractors.

The father-and-son team of Dave and Scott Kroese did much of the carpentry, while others handled insulation and windows. Retired teachers such as Jim Eekhoff, Henry Eekhoff, Dwight Baker, Ken Draayer and Aldie Altena spent hours upon hours at the site, readying it for racks of clothes, household wares, furniture displays, pictures and more.

"In six months, we totally changed the building," Fopma said.

When the call went out for the receipt of donated clothing and more, folks around Hull responded. The place soon filled with an impressive assortment of...well, just about everything. On Wednesday, I witnessed a stream of shoppers seeking everything from back-to-school items to appliances. Bargain seekers were met by a host of Bargain Alley staffers and volunteers, many of whom have ties to Western Christian.

"The volunteering is kind of addictive," said Jennie Pluim, a 1953 grad of Western. "You can volunteer anywhere from one hour to several hours. I've been here almost every day since it opened."

The opening came on July 12 during Hull's Summer Fest celebration. Fopma said shoppers and donors have come from Western Christian as well as the schools serving Boyden-Hull, Trinity Christian and more.

A portion of the old bowling alley remains, which I liked to see. The front counter upon which Pluim worked on Wednesday was, in fact, one of the lanes. Co-manager Kari Hoekstra pointed to several painted bowling pins and balls for sale.

"The old restaurant portion of the building is our Furniture Alley," said Hoekstra, who noted that all sign displays for wares are printed in English and Spanish.

"People may donate items during our business hours, or they may ask us to come to their home to pick up items for donation," Hoekstra said.

"We keep our prices low to keep merchandise moving," she added.

There is no price, however, on the old Family Bowl & Cafe sign. That might be the only item without a price tag, currently.

When thinking back on the past year or so that Fopma has been involved in this task, he recalled one particular sight that had him shaking his head. Randy Van't Hof, of nearby Sioux Center, contacted Fopma to see if anyone had designs on the other bowling lanes. Fopma said Van't Hof could have them if we wanted to come get them.

"They took apart the lanes in three-pieces each," Fopma said. "Each piece weighed 700 to 800 pounds and we couldn't get a forklift in to move them. So, it took 15 guys or so to grab each piece and walk them out the front door."

Teamwork, it is called. And it's a concept the folks at Western Christian know well, on the field, on the court, and, apparently, even in the old bowling alley.

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