January 5, 2014

Monday Merced Matters: Determination drives thrift store owner

Esteban Miranda loves being a businessman, helping others.

Esteban Miranda loves being a businessman. The Merced thrift store owner has learned business means hard work, long hours and some risk, but that the rewards can be great.

Miranda, 23, graduated from California State University, Fresno, last May with a bachelor’s degree in business and opened his thrift store on West Main Street in Merced the next month. He is moving the thrift store to north Merced and says it won’t be his last commercial venture.

“I love doing business,” Miranda said. “It makes me happy. To me, any business is good as long as it is honest and profitable. My first, primary goal right now is to help my parents retire. They work nonstop. I want to help my family enjoy their life.”

Miranda has no regrets about opening the thrift store in downtown Merced, but he said it was tough at first and discouraging at times. He remembers making $3 one day and $5 another day and said his downtown location suffered from poor parking.

Yet the downtown store, located at 615 W. Main St., enabled him to venture out to his new location at 3516 G St., he said. He is grateful for his customers.

“I owe them everything. My customers have been awesome,” Miranda said. “Thanks to them, I’m slowly making my dream come true. It was tough to get started. Most people’s perspective is that thrift stores smell weird and are really messy. I make sure nothing is stained or broken; once they go in, they’re happy.”

Javier Villanueva has been Miranda’s friend for about eight years, since high school. He said Miranda has always been goal-oriented and doesn’t doubt he will achieve his goals.

“He’s smart; he knows what he wants and gets it,” Villanueva said. “He’s right where he wants to be. He’s nonstop and started from the bottom.”

Fresno land developer Cliff Tutelian was one of Miranda’s mentors when he was a Fresno State student and described him as very determined.

“I am very proud of what he’s done,” Tutelian said. “He has what I call a burning desire to succeed. He was my fourth student and the most focused and driven of them all. I’ve found him to be fair and honest.”

Part of operating a thrift store is knowing what people want and giving them clean, nearly new and unbroken merchandise. Through the thrift store and earlier experiences as a vendor at flea markets, Miranda has discovered most everything sells, but maybe not as quickly as he would like.

Miranda concentrates on brand names. He tries to wash all the clothes he buys and sanitizes almost everything.

“Everyone has different tastes. We try to cater to everybody,” Miranda said. “I was surprised that grown men are buying 70 to 80 percent of the toys I sell. The older action figures remind them of their childhood. I am impressed at how many women buy decorative household items.”

Miranda’s Thrift Shop has thousands of items, including video games, furniture, toys, tools, DVDs, clothing, household items, camping equipment, bicycles, musical instruments, sports equipment, dishware and kitchen items, paintball gear, fishing lures and records.

Miranda said people ask for records and especially want vintage video games, along with older CDs and DVDs. He also sells baseball gloves, bats, cleats, footballs, soccer balls and other sports gear. In the toy realm, customers are looking for Barbie dolls, cars, stuffed animals and action figures.

Merced Mayor Stan Thurston said many of Miranda’s newest customers are UC Merced students who eat at a nearby sushi restaurant and ride the university’s CatTracks buses.

“I’m happy to hear he got his new store set up,” Thurston said. “I was incredibly impressed to learn he financed his college education with proceeds from the thrift store. I was impressed with his entrepreneurial spirit; he is a very motivated young man.”

Miranda said he can’t see himself operating a thrift store all his life. He would love to own a large retail business and a couple of gas stations.

Even though Miranda is relocating to the Raley’s Shopping Center in north Merced, he hopes to open an even bigger location. At this new venue he wants to donate a percentage of profits to community organizations.

Miranda’s dream since childhood has been to go to Mexico or Africa and help poor children. He gave 130 presents to foster children last Christmas, regularly hands out blankets and sleeping bags to the homeless and donated school supplies last fall.

Miranda said he is most happy when his store is full of customers and merchandise is going in and out quickly. He believes in networking with City Council members and plans to talk to Fresno State students about pressing forward with their plans for the future.

“You’ve got to sacrifice partying sometimes,” Miranda said. “You’ve got to keep working and be dedicated. You are going to fail lots of times, but don’t give up.”

Miranda advertises on Facebook, Instagram, Craigslist and newspapers. He wants to counter the image that thrift stores are dirty and unorganized, and said customers appreciate clean, quality items at a reasonable price. If that’s so, he said, people will come back and the word will spread.

Running his store is a lot of work and is stressful at times, he said, but he has no regrets.

“If you show people you are willing to work, good things will come to you.”

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