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Proposed Mercer Island Thrift Store redesign still work in progress

Thrift store employee, Michael McCormick, right, helps Islander Christine Poythress unload her car at the shop on Sunday, Sept. 1. McCormick noted that despite the already crowded sidewalk, it was a ‘slow day’ for donations which usually pile much higher on the canvas carts.  - Mary L. Grady/Staff Photo
Thrift store employee, Michael McCormick, right, helps Islander Christine Poythress unload her car at the shop on Sunday, Sept. 1. McCormick noted that despite the already crowded sidewalk, it was a ‘slow day’ for donations which usually pile much higher on the canvas carts.
— image credit: Mary L. Grady/Staff Photo

At a second listening session regarding plans to remodel and expand the Mercer Island Thrift store, Islanders were invited to take a walking tour with city planners and the project architect and have their say.

As it is with any change to an Island institution, especially one placed on park land in a residential neighborhood, many are concerned. The shop, in a building that formerly housed a swimming pool, at the southeast corner of Mercerdale Park is owned and operated by the city.

About a dozen came to talk to city staff about what they feel are areas that should be given special attention when making changes to the building or the surrounding park. Fifteen attended a similar session earlier in August.

Cindy Goodwin, director of Mercer Island Youth and Family Services emphasized that the city wanted to hear from neighbors about the plan.

"We are not glazing over the impact of this on the neighborhood," she said. "Nothing is a done deal."The city plans to expand the shop to take full advantage of its potential of the store to generate money to pay for Mercer Island's Youth and Family Services department YFS offers city residents assistance with counseling, (including students at Mercer Island public schools), housing employment, and youth and crime prevention programs. YFS also operates the food pantry at Luther Burbank Park.

"The Thrift store is all about Youth and Family Services," Thrift store coordinator, Suzanne Philen said. "The shop helps pay for the services they offer."The shop now grosses about $1.25 million each year," she said.

The city hopes to improve access and traffic flow into and out of the store and on S.E. 34th Street, while making it easier for people to drop off donations as well as shop. They want to mitigate the impact of the store on the park and on the pre-school play area in the park on the north side of the building. They want to improve the appearance of the front of the store and be able to display and sell more goods inside the building. They want to make it an attractive part of the Mercerdale neighborhood.

"We have heard from the community about noise and traffic, especially along S.E. 34th Street," Goodwin said, adding that many have also expressed support for the expansion plans. In order to fully utilize the space within the existing building, plans call for the slanted roof on the back of the store to be raised to free up more space inside on the second floor and a new addition to be built next to the back of the store.

Right now there is not enough storage available to keep seasonal items or yet to be sorted goods, Philen said. Some goods are stored at the old recycling center along with goods that are to be resold or discarded.

“The whole footprint of the (existing) store will be made available for retail," said Steve Sutherland of the design firm Johnson & Sutherland. Sutherland also wanted to ensure that neighbors will still have the walking access to the park they enjoy now. He plans on continuing to refine the store design.

“This whole process has been very useful for us,” he added.

The new space will be used for volunteers to sort and process donations. Some 140 volunteers work at the store each year. About 60 of those are regulars, coordinator, Philen said. The volunteers are a community in and of itself, Goodwin said. "We want to make sure we keep their needs in mind, too."

The changes will free up all of the space in the existing building for selling the donated goods. Other plans include adding a separate driveway along 78th Avenue S.E. for drop-offs in the back of the shop and moving the large dumpster at the front. About sixty cars a day come to drop off donations.

Peter Johnstone, who lives in a condo across 78th Avenue S.E., talked about the impacts of the proposed doubling of the existing parking lot and a drive-up lane of off the northbound lane of 78th Avenue S.E. He and another condo resident said they definitely heard the trucks who come to haul off the dumpsters at different hours. More parking, thanks to a reshuffling of spaces and expanding the pavement 20 feet or so into the park, should help those who come to the park both to shop or attend events or with children to play would keep some cars off the street. Many agreed. But, of a newly expanded parking lot, Johnstone said, “If you build it they will come.”

Other comments from Mercerdale neighbors included the desire to keep the store “as it is,” not to enlarge the space at all and to keep it less “profit-oriented.” More than one felt that prices at the shop are too high.  Another stated that she felt, commercial enterprises belonged in the Town Center not in a residential area or a park. Another wondered why the old recycling center space could not be used for drop-offs or to store inventory.

Other comments from Mercerdale neighbors included the desire to keep the store “as it is,” not to enlarge the space at all and to keep it less “profit-oriented.” More than one felt that prices at the shop are too high. Another stated that she felt, commercial enterprises belonged in the Town Center not in a residential area or a park.

After the initial plan for the shop was drawn up, the City Council directed staff to scale back the project by almost 40 percent. The intent was to lower costs but to also ease possible impacts on the Mercerdale neighborhood.

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