— 1977 —
“Rag Stock—a Funky-Fashion Find”
By Monty Norris, Minneapolis Star Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 4th, 1977
This is a rags-to-riches story with a new twist.
In this case the hero still is in rags and he isn’t necessarily very rich, but that’s not the point. The point is simply what he’s doing with all those rags. For example, are you in the market for an Italian army duffel bag? Or maybe a London bobby’s cape? How about an English fireman’s jacket or some colorful Java print cloth?
Those are just a few of the offbeat items for sale at the Minneapolis Rag Stock Co., 824 4th Ave. S.—a place its owner, Howard Weisskopf, says “has become an institution in this city.” Maybe he’s right. Rag Stock, to the uninitiated, is the city’s largest used-clothing mart—a center for funky fashion.
“I don’t know, frankly, what I’d do if there wasn’t someplace like this,” a mother of two toddlers said as she rummaged through a barrel of used shirts. “I’ve been buying most of our clothes here now for the past two or three years.”
“It’s just fun to come in here and look around,” said one out-of-town coed, who said she and several of her friends drive into the Twin Cities frequently to shop at Rag Stock.
“Rag Stock, to the uninitiated, is the city’s largest used-clothing mart—a center for funky fashion.”
The store also is a favorite shopping mart for theatrical types looking for costumes. Dudley Riggs himself is a regular browser and William Semans, the Cricket Theatre director and operator, said, “Yeah, I usually write about a check a month to Rag Stock for costumes. They’ve got a vast collection of things to pick from.”
Laraine Lee, the Cricket’s costumer, says Rag Stock is a bargain paradise.
“You can find things there that you don’t find other places,” she said. “We found some British capes there we used in a recent production. I even bought one of their British firemen’s jackets for myself. It’s a terrific place to shop. It’s a lot of fun.”
Weisskopf, 55, sees himself as more than a used-clothing clothing mogul, however. He considers himself something of a worldwide fashion trend-setter. And he makes a pretty good case.
“A few years ago I was in London on a business trip,” Weisskopf said. “I wanted to unload a bunch of bowling shirts and college sweatshirts I had. We had a bunch of them and they were selling pretty well here, but we had so many. So I conned this London boutique dealer on King’s Rd. in Chelsea into buying them. I told him they were really big back in the U.S. Actually, the only place I knew for sure they were popular was in Minneapolis. But I figured they’d go over big other places, too.
“If they start selling stuff in the boutiques along King’s Rd., then it’s stylish, it’s fashionable. And that’s what happened.
“Before long, you had these English kids running around with bowling shirts from Anoka and Coon Rapids, places like that. And then pretty soon kinds from the continent were coming over (to England) to buy them and soon it was the style all over Europe, too.”
Weisskopf doesn’t claim credit for the used clothing fad that burgeoned in the late 60s. He just capitalized on it, in a sense, and helped nurture it in this region.”I was available to fill a need,” he said.
The store’s beginning, however, was sheer happenstance.It started with a phone call.
“Before long, you had these English kids running around with bowling shirts from Anoka and Coon Rapids, places like that.”
– Howard Weisskopf
“About 9 or 10 years ago, back when we were on Quincy St., someone from the county welfare department called and asked if they sent someone over would we sell them some used clothing. Back then, of course, we did nothing but process old clothes for industrial use as rags and ship them overseas for the poor—stuff like that.
“Well, I told them sure, of course I would. And that’s how it happened. Word spread, I guess, that this was a great place to find old clothes.
“That was about the time of the ‘hippie era’ and these kids started coming in looking for things like military jackets and used jeans and stuff like that.
“It got comical at times. Employees would stop work and watch the kids rummaging through the clothes. Productivity went thataway. . . . ” Weisskopf gave a thumbs down gesture and smiled. “Finally, I decided to open a small retail operation, selling some of the better items.”
The retail store is only a small part of the total operation. Rag Stock also ships clothing to Europe and several African nations where it is either distributed to the poor or the material is recycled into new clothing and blankets.
But it is the retail operation that has made Weisskopf something of a local celebrity.
“Everywhere I go in the Twin Cities people are always saying, ‘Oh, you own Rag Stock, huh. Gee, my kids shop there all the time.'”
“We’re starting to see more families in here these days,” he said. “It’s probably partly because of the economy and partly that used clothing is simply more fashionable these days.”This is kinda like a kid’s toy bin,” he said. “It’s a fun place just to play. We don’t have sales clerks hanging around customers. People can just relax and enjoy themselves.”
Weisskopf likes to wax philosophical at times. And he walks on the edge of both hype and hyperbole when doing it, too. But you get the feeling he knows just what he’s saying. To wit:
“Kids and young people who are buying clothes like this are setting the fashion around the world.”
“Today’s kids and young people are more realistic and functional than their parents’ generation. They realize you don’t have to go to expensive department stores to buy clothes.”
Weisskopf rounds up most of the clothing form various institutions in the upper Midwest, such as the Salvation Army, Goodwill, government surplus supplies, churches and other charitable groups.
“Buying clothes from these places is a major source of revenue to them,” Weisskopf said. “People may be alarmed when they hear that these places are selling clothes to us. But they have to realize that these places can’t handle all the clothes they get and they have to have buyers like us.”
Weisskopf and his son-in-law, Marc Leurs, administrative manager for the company, say that the popularity of faded blue jeans and denims has made them increasingly scarce.
“They’re still our main drawing card,” Luers said. “But they’re getting harder and harder to find. They don’t come through normal channels much anymore. We have to really hunt to find them.
“We’ve had to start buying them and bib overalls from other sources in the last couple of years.”
Nevertheless, the company maintains a large supply of jeans and denims, which Luers and Weisskopf say still are their biggest sellers.