For charity’s sake, most Southland thrifts thriving
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY firstname.lastname@example.org January 27, 2013 9:30PM
Colette Bell, of Lansing, shops at the Good as New Thrift Store in Matteson Thursday, January 24, 2013. The store, which supports Sertoma Center, is closing. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 1, 2013 6:43AM
The spacious store and its shelves were nearly empty, but a handful of shoppers still were finding a few bargains.
Deep discounts of 50, 75 and 80 percent off were available on remaining housewares, clothing and books — and that will continue until Feb. 1, if the merchandise lasts that long.
Despite a rather robust thrift market in this dire economy, the Good as New Thrift Store in Matteson is closing.
The store, whose proceeds benefit the Sertoma Centre, an Alsip-based organization that supports people with disabilities, “was not as profitable as we had hoped,” Sertoma director of advancement and communications Amy Chmura said.
Sertoma Centre provides services to 700 individuals with physical and emotional disabilities and mental illness. Adjacent to the store space at 4331 W. U.S. 30 is its Redwood Counseling and Wellness Centre. It also operates two facilities in Alsip.
The thrift shop opened five years ago and was meant to be a fundraiser and serve as a training facility for its clients, Chmura said.
“We opened it and tried it, but it has not met our financial goals,” Chmura said. It will offer special discounts until it closes.
With growth in other program areas, Sertoma will now refocus resources on additional programs and services and reconfigure the shop’s 10,000 square feet of space.
Among the several Southland shops that support different charitable organizations, the Good as New Thrift Store’s plight appears to be the exception rather than the rule, however.
In fact, the sluggish economy has brought more shoppers into these stores, many said.
“It’s a strong market. It’s sad to see a business go,” said Sharon Korthauer, manager of One More Thing Resale Shop, 343 Main St., Park Forest.
For 10 years, the store has helped support the South Suburban Family Shelter, which aids victims of domestic violence and homelessness.
“We’re doing very well. We get new customers every day,” she said. “We’ve been very blessed.”
Together We Cope, which operates Nu2u resale shop, 17010 Oak Park Ave., Tinley Park, saw an 8 percent increase in business in 2012, and sales that previous year were up over the year before, spokeswoman Margaret Seltzner said.
“Thankfully, business has been very good at our resale shop,” she said.
One of the leaders in the nonprofit resale shop market is the Crisis Center for South Suburbia, which has been in the business for 27 years. Its Neat Repeats Resale shops operate in Worth and Orland Park and provide 36 percent of the funding for the crisis center’s $2.3 million budget, store director Joyce Athey said.
“With less government funding, we rely more on the resale shop. We get a lot of community support and have a great support team. That’s why we’re doing so well,” she said. “We have a lot of arms that reach out into the community.”
But with competition literally next door to the Orland Park site, Athey knows she has to provide something different.
Some said they visit other resale shops to see what’s going on.
“We are always doing new things in merchandising and having special sales,” Seltzner said.
After receiving hundreds of store sample bridal and bridesmaid gowns, Nu2u put them on sale for $75 or less and drew quite a crowd, she said. They also offered other bridal treats and allowed complementary businesses such as florists and bakeries to participate.
Seltzner attributes the long-term success of Nu2u to “great service, pleasing displays, good deals” and a “substantial” selection of items.
While the overhead can be high for a nonprofit outfit in a valuable retail space, they typically rely on a loyal base of volunteers who believe in their mission and find clever ways to entice new customers.
“We are profitable because of our volunteers,” Athey said. “We run this like a business. We need them to be here. We try to match their skills with the jobs and let their talents shine.”
They also try to be “thrifty on the inside,” and find volunteers do to painting, construction and repair work, too, she said.
Volunteers take great pride in the shop and make it feel like a boutique rather than a thrift store, Korthauer said of One More Thing.
Athey said it is difficult to compete with “big conglomerates,” such as Goodwill, but she also knows that resale shoppers like supporting a local charity and helping their own community.
While the resale shops are a major fundraiser for these charities, they are not the only fundraisers.
Sertoma Centre, for instance, will continue its other popular fundraisers — the new housewares super sale in March, and its “Big Event,” when at least a dozen firefighters cook their favorite dishes April 27 at 115 Bourbon Street in Merrionette Park, as well as other smaller events throughout the year, Chmura said.