Aloha store owner finds new career a family bargain


Foster mother works to overcome neighborhoods sketchy stereotypes

by: JAIME VALDEZ - Jackie Medina, 20, and her mom, Lori Keesis, help customers at Treasure Hunters thrift store in Aloha. Keesis started the store because her foster daughter, who has a learning disability, had problems finding a job.After years as a social worker and care provider for foster children, Lori Keesis was ready for a career change.

On top of that, her daughters with learning disabilities were having trouble landing satisfactory jobs. She also was increasingly put off by an upward creep in prices at the second-hand merchandise stores she frequented.

The combination of those factors led to one conclusion: It was time to start her own thrift store business.

Finding a low profile, but spacious and affordable storefront at 5990 S.W. 185th Ave. in Aloha, Keesis opened Treasure Hunters in October 2011. Striving to keep merchandise quality high, prices low and the atmosphere family-like and friendly, Keesis is enjoying her change of pace.

“We decided to open our own store,” she says of her and her daughter, Jackie Medina, 20, who mans the checkout register on the clothing side of the store’s two-sectioned suite. “It’s fun to be here. We didn’t have a lot of revenue, but we found an affordable place. The landlord is wonderful and has been extremely helpful. We have plenty of parking. We have lots of very nice items, and our prices are unbeatable.”

The dilemma, she says, involves location as well as perception. While A-board signs help draw attention from 185th Avenue, being on the backside of a plaza makes drawing walk-in customers a challenge. And Keesis, 51, still battles the tendency of those who might cast a wary eye on an off-the-beaten-path thrift store in blue-collar Aloha.

“Although our traffic has increased, and we have a lot of faithful customers, I have heard that some think we are ‘sketchy,’” she says. “When asked why people thought that, I was told it was our location, and the businesses around us. One woman came in and said, ‘I was scared to come in here, but now I am glad I did. This is now my favorite store.’”

The hidden spot may not be ideal, but word of mouth is catching up with Treasure Hunters. Run of the mill bargain hunters seeking furniture, clothing, home accessories and trinkets will find plenty to explore. In particular, sentimental shoppers with a fondness for mid-20th century miscellany will be bug-eyed by the funky lamps, vintage Fisher-Price toys, and low-slung sofas and furnishings evoking the Eisenhower and Kennedy years, a la the HBO series “Mad Men.”

“I really like mid-century modern stuff,” Keesis says, adding the store grabs the attention of the many vintage-store proprietors along Hawthorne Boulevard in Southeast Portland. “A lot of buyers come out from Hawthorne. Craigslist had tons of mid-century stuff. Now it’s hard to find.

“When I find it,” she adds, “I grab it.”

Cheyenne, one of Keesis’ two biological children, didn’t take to life at the store. However, Jackie, Keesis’ foster child, enjoys the camaraderie and interactions she finds at the store.

“I like the environment,” Jackie says. “You get to meet new people.”

The Southridge High School graduate has a mild learning disability that makes working with numbers a challenge. She says she enjoys getting some real-world work experience as she figures out what career path she might JAIME VALDEZ - Treasure Hunters thrift store owner Lori Keesis and her daughter Jackie Medina, 20, share a laugh in front of their Aloha store.

“I’m thinking about studying business (administration),” she says. “I did want to be a nurse, but I found out I can’t deal with blood.”

In the meantime, mom, a longtime champion and supporter of foster children, likes having Jackie, one of two foster daughters, around.

“People love her,” Keesis says.

While not a member of the family, Tracy Kincaid-Larsen provides Keesis invaluable assistance in acquiring merchandise and organizing items by theme and style.

“I came in as a customer,” she says. “Everyone likes Lori — you just can’t resist. I said I love to organize things. One thing led to another, and I started coming in a few days a week.”

“When I have an idea, (Keesis) is like, ‘Oh no!’” Kincaid-Larsen adds with a laugh. “I like to build things. It’s such a small store. You’ve got to go vertical to make things fit in such a small space.”

Bill McNicholas, 86, an Aloha resident since 1951, says he became a regular at Treasure Hunters after he “happened” on the tucked-away store while walking along 18th Avenue one day.

“She had some treasures for me right off the bat,” says the retired steamfitter, noting his penchant for Waterford and Lenox crystal and chinaware. “I like looking for bargains — and then I give them away.

“(Lori’s) a very unique person,” he adds. “She’s kind to every person who comes in, and tries to give them a good deal. She’s a great gal and helps a lot of kids.”

Keesis, whose desire to help children stems from an unstable family life while growing up as well as a drug problem she overcame 26 years ago, says if the store’s business continues to build, she wouldn’t rule out expanding her thrift store concept beyond her Aloha neighborhood.

“We would like to be a chain someday,” she says.

In the short run, however, she’ll settle for local respectability.

“I want people to come in and see us,” she says, adding with a grin, “because we’re not sketchy.”by: JAIME VALDEZ - Treasure Hunters thrift store owner Lori Keesis and her daughter Jackie Medina, 20, tend to Colby Littlejohn, who is a frequent customer of the Aloha store.