STRUTHERS -- When Melanie Rauschenbach opened Kids' Stuff in the State Street storefront adjoining her antique shop, her three boys were young, and she'd heard that children's resale shops were the next big thing.

STRUTHERS -- When Melanie Rauschenbach opened Kids' Stuff in the State Street storefront adjoining her antique shop, her three boys were young, and she'd heard that children's resale shops were the next big thing.

Rauschenbach figured it'd be a low-stress business, with an easily replenished inventory of used children's clothes and toys, books and furniture.

But she didn't anticipate it lasting 18 years.

"I never thought it would be around this long, after my own children became adults," Rauschenbach said. "I think people can relate to a family-owned business, and are very comfortable coming in. They feel like they're a part of the store, and, certainly, we're a part of the community."

In early September, after almost two decades at 6 State St. in downtown Struthers, Rauschenbach moved Kids' Stuff less than a half-mile away, to 160 Lowellville Road.

Built in 1925 as a grocery store, the structure boasts an original tin ceiling, along with several original light fixtures. Since its construction almost a century ago, it has been occupied by only a few tenants, including an appliance repair store and a rumored pool hall, but then sat empty for the past 35 years.

Its vacancy was both a blessing and a challenge, Rauschenbach said.

She was grateful that not much had changed -- and, subsequently, that not much had to be "recorrected." But years of water damage to the tin ceiling had to be undone, overgrown foliage around the exterior had to be pruned, and the forgotten-about interior had to be cleaned and painted.

To Rauschenbach, though, the move was worth it. She's long wanted to own her own building, especially an old one, and has already noticed new customers stopping in.

Of course, the familiar customers who routinely shopped at the store's original location have followed her, too. In 18 years, she said, it's no surprise that many of them have become more than customers; they've also become her friends.

"You know their kids. You know their grandkids," Rauschenbach said. "You want to know what's going on in their lives, and you're excited to see them."

She added that it takes just one visit to Kids' Stuff -- which carries clothing from newborn to kids size 10-12, along with "pretty much everything kid related," Rauschenbach said -- to become hooked. Customers soon realize that a lot of children's items don't have to be purchased new -- and that they can give their children much more by shopping at Kids' Stuff.

Most customers live nearby, but some come from as far away as Grove City and Sharon, Pa. In addition, the store has a steady stream of business throughout the year, but gets especially busy around the back-to-school season and Christmas.

Obviously every parent wants nice things for their children, Rauschenbach said, and at Kids' Stuff, those nice things can be purchased at a fraction of the cost.

"You wouldn't believe how many people say, 'Don't ever close. We need you,'" Rauschenbach said. "It's definitely filling a need for people, and there are too many who depend on it being here."

Dodie George, of Lowellville, struggled to tally up the number of years she'd been shopping at Kids' Stuff. She and her husband travel to Cuba every year -- she's leaving Dec. 15 -- and bring with them strollers, cribs, clothing, shoes and blankets, among other children's items.

George buys many of those goods at Kids' Stuff. She added that children in Cuba have a tremendous need for them, and that they simply don't have "access to stores like we do" in the U.S.

Plus, Kids' Stuff offers reasonable prices for a good selection of items, George said.

"Clothes are too expensive to buy new, for kids to grow out of them in three months," she said. "I've known Melanie for some time, and she's a good person. I think [Kids' Stuff] is the best in the area."

Kids' Stuff is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from noon to 3 p.m. Sunday.

2013 Vindicator (Youngstown, Ohio)

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