Secondhand store built from tragedies celebrates joy in thrifting

Flying Pig Thrift, the newest addition to the Midway thrift scene, supports local nonprofits and honors a sister's passion for thrifting.

From+left%2C+owner+Melody+Luepke+stands+with+volunteer+John+Sponsel+and+her+husband%2C+Charlie+Luepke+in+the+newly+opened+Flying+Pig+Thrift.
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Secondhand store built from tragedies celebrates joy in thrifting

From left, owner Melody Luepke stands with volunteer John Sponsel and her husband, Charlie Luepke in the newly opened Flying Pig Thrift.

From left, owner Melody Luepke stands with volunteer John Sponsel and her husband, Charlie Luepke in the newly opened Flying Pig Thrift.

Kelly Holm

From left, owner Melody Luepke stands with volunteer John Sponsel and her husband, Charlie Luepke in the newly opened Flying Pig Thrift.

Kelly Holm

Kelly Holm

From left, owner Melody Luepke stands with volunteer John Sponsel and her husband, Charlie Luepke in the newly opened Flying Pig Thrift.

Kelly Holm, Senior Reporter

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For the first time in almost two years, the former Hamline bookstore is no longer vacant. Taking its place on 722 Snelling Ave North is Flying Pig Thrift. 

Open since late July, the secondhand shop is the brainchild of Melody Luepke, a retired special education teacher and current part-time massage therapist. 

Despite its whimsical name, the store’s inception was rooted in grief. In late 2017, Luepke lost her younger sister Heather Valdez, a jewelry-loving children’s librarian from Texas, to pancreatic cancer at age 61. 

Kelly Holm
Owner Melody Luepke ensures that the memory of her sister, Heather Valdez, is kept alive at Flying Pig.

For Luepke and Valdez, thrifting was a shared joy. Whether at Goodwill or a garage sale, together they loved finding hidden treasures among another’s trash. Take, for example, a figure of a flying pig. 

Even as Valdez’s physical energy waned, her passion for the activity did not dim.

“Toward the end, when she was getting treatments and not feeling well, she would still want to stop at a thrift store after,” Luepke recalled.

After Valdez passed away, Luepke knew there was no better way to honor her than by launching one of her own.

“I thought I really could do her soul a lot of good, and mine too, by opening a thrift shop in her honor and sharing the profits,” Luepke said. 

Flying Pig’s proceeds will benefit Moms Demand Action, Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration (MAVA), Black Truce Peace Organization and the St. Paul Almanac. 

The store is staffed entirely by volunteers. Black Truce’s founder, Darnella Wade, is one such volunteer. She created the organization last year after her son, D’Onjay Jackson, was critically injured by a gunshot to the face in 2016. He remains hospitalized to this day.

“My son was shot by a 17-year-old, but it was bigger than us, so instead of me being angry, I started a non-profit… to ask the community to basically put the guns down,” Wade said. “I’m really loud about accountability in our community.” 

Kelly Holm
Flying Pig is very careful to ensure that all pieces of toys or games are accounted for before they are sold.

Another volunteer is none other than Luepke’s husband Charlie, who came up with the store’s name. He dubs himself Flying Pig’s vinyl specialist and is overjoyed that records are trendy among young people again. 

“I want to make sure we have good vinyl. You go to a Goodwill, and the vinyl is crappy,” Charlie said. “I also like to keep two guitars here at all times. One sells, then I go get another one.”

Charlie is also responsible for delivering heavy items that customers may not want to pick up themselves. Flying Pig charges $20 to deliver within St. Paul and Roseville, and $40 elsewhere in the metro area. 

Preparation leading up to the store’s July 20 opening was extensive. Although Hamline had already remodeled the space upon vacating it, the Luepkes and their allies had to furnish the property and fill it with merchandise. 

A GoFundMe campaign was launched for utility expenses. Shelves were acquired from the now-defunct Bibelot franchise, and neighbors and community members donated goods to sell. Now, the clothing section is so full that donations are not currently being accepted in that area. 

Kelly Holm
Secondhand finds like this shirt are for sale at Flying Pig Thrift, which carries clothing, toys, jewelry, collectibles, and other items.

Flying Pig is also heavily stocked with books and jewelry, just as Valdez would have wanted, ensuring that her legacy is apparent throughout the store. On one wall hangs a set of photos featuring the sisters together, adorned with Valdez’s name.

“I get to tell her story a lot, which is great,” Luepke said. 

Flying Pig is closed on Tuesdays and Thursdays and is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. the other five days of the week. 

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