CROOKSTON, Minn. — The Christmas spirit permeates the shop that popped up in downtown Crookston in mid-December.

From the holiday songs playing in the background, to the festive red and green decorations, to the managers delightedly watching customers picking out gifts, the shop exudes warmth and kindness.

Denise Nicholas, a former Crookston business owner, and Terrie Heggie, Crookston Chamber of Commerce's executive director, paired up to open the holiday pop-shop for a few hours on Wednesday, Dec. 16, and Thursday, Dec. 17. All of the items in the shop are free for customers to take for their own use or to give to a family member or friend as a gift.

The items range from sets of chinaware, to men’s and women’s clothing and shoes to children's toys. Everything, including the holiday gift bags that customers can put their chosen presents in, are donated.

Nicholas was doing pre-holiday house cleaning last week when she started thinking about how she could share some of her extra things that still were in good condition with others.

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“If I haven’t used it in a year, shouldn’t I be sharing it with someone who can?” Nicholas asked, noting that this year, with COVID-19 resulting in job loss, there are many people in need.

Rather than giving her things to a thrift store, she wanted to find a way to display them, show customers how some of them were part of a set and to help match up customers with the things they want.

“I thought ‘I should have a little store,’” said Nicholas, who asked Heggie what empty buildings in Crookston were available, and Heggie checked with Steve Erickson, who offered the former beauty shop connected to his embroidery business on Second Street in Crookston.

Erickson told Nicholas she could decorate the building, so last weekend she got to work putting garland on the walls and moving in tables to display the items family and friends donated.

“It’s been really, really fun,” Nicholas said.

On Dec. 16, several tables were laden with seasonal decor, blankets and toiletries. Meanwhile, customers also could choose from a variety of children's and adult books, movies and cookware.

“I just got a new apartment, so it’s helping me find things for my place,” said Angela Canales, who was at the pop-up store during the noon hour on Wednesday. Besides the economic strain from COVID-19, Canales recently has battled health issues.

“I just got over cancer,” Canales said.

The pop-up store is open to the public and is not need-based, Heggie said, noting that she invited the general public to come to the store during a local radio show interview.

“I love it, the more the merrier,” Nicholas said. “The holidays are so much more fun when you can invite people to share them.”

As customers walked out of the store carrying bags and boxes of items, Nicholas beamed.

“Thank you for coming, and I hope you have a merry Christmas,” she said.

Heggie called Nicholas one of Crookston’s “elves” who works quietly behind the scenes to help others and make Crookston a kind community in which people support one another.

“This is such a great idea. I’m thinking in springtime we should do this again,” Heggie said.