Thrift store blues
It ain’t easy being thrifty.
Rising rent, decreased donations and expanding competition are forcing the Salvation Army to close its Eagle River thrift store Nov. 21.
“It’s getting harder and harder to do business,” said Garry Ervin, the charity’s Anchorage area director of retail operations.
Workers at the Eagle River store stopped accepting donations several months ago. The Salvation Army’s lease at its current location is up at the end of the year, and Ervin said the store could no longer pay for itself.
“The square foot rental is too much to bear,” he said.
Ervin said inventory would be moved to the charity’s four remaining locations — three in Anchorage and one in Wasilla — and staff will be allowed to transfer to other stores.
It’s not just rent that’s putting the squeeze on the Salvation Army. Ervin said donations are down significantly at all area stores, a fact he attributes to both tighter economic times and increased competition in the thrift business. Just two years ago, he said, the Salvation Army took in as many donations in a day as it now gets in a week.
When economic times are tough, he said, people tend to hold onto their old items longer. Combine that with the emergence of more for-profit thrift stores, and Ervin said the results are predictable.
“There’s a tremendous number of competitors that the Salvation Army didn’t have before,” he said.
From hipsters seeking retro digs to recreational “pickers” searching for undiscovered treasures, thrift stores have no lack of customers these days. But it’s not these patrons Kay Abrams worries about. Instead, Abrams — a lay leader with the United Methodist Church of Chugiak — wonders what will happen to folks who rely upon stores like the Salvation Army to provide a cheap source of basic household goods.
“The people who are on a strict budget are going to be in a world of hurt in this area,” Abrams said.
To help fill the gap left behind by the Salvation Army’s departure, UMCC plans to set up a recurring garage sale at the church, which is located at 16430 Old Glenn Highway. Abrams said when UMCC heard about the Salvation Army’s impending closure, the church council sprang into action.
“We just feel we can step in and help,” Abrams said.
Beginning in January, Abrams said the church will accept donations on the first and last Saturdays of each month. Sales will be held the second weekend of each month.
Abrams said the program (dubbed “Recycling for a Reason”) serves the dual purpose of giving people a place to drop off items and providing more goods to those who need them. She said the church is working with other faith groups in the community to see that donated goods get in the hands of as many folks as possible.
“We’ll be inviting them to come and pick up things they need for their clients,” Abrams said.
If the Salvation Army can find an Eagle River landlord willing to offer cheap rent, Ervin said a return to the community is possible.
“We would love to be back,” he said.
Ervin said the charity’s ties to Chugiak-Eagle River have always been strong.
“We’ve had a wonderful relationship with the community,” he said.
Eagle River’s Velton Johnston said he’s be sad to see the store go. Johnston stopped by the Eagle River location recently with an armful of children’s items, but was told to take the donations elsewhere. “It’s handy” to have a place to donate used items, said Johnston, a regular Salvation Army donor.
“When you have kids, they outgrow everything every three months,” he said.
Johnston said he likes helping the Salvation Army because of the charity’s Christian teachings.
“The reason I like it here is they talk to people about Jesus, and I like that,” he said.
The Salvation Army’s struggles, Ervin said, don’t just impact those who shop at the store or drop off donations. All sales go to fund the group’s 72-bed Adult Rehabilitation Center in Anchorage.
Although the Salvation Army no longer accepts donations at its Eagle River store, Ervin said the charity still picks items up. He said prospective donors can call (907) 561-4670 to schedule a pick up time.
While he hopes a return to Eagle River is possible, Ervin said his focus is now on keeping the Salvation Army’s existing stores open.
“It’s a changing business,” he said.
Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or [email protected].