Thrift Store expansion to be postponed

The Mercer Island Thrift Shop remodel has been placed on hold, due to dips in revenue and staff. Though the Thrift Shop had a successful first quarter in 2013 with a 22 percent increase in sales, workforce shortages in the second quarter, led the staff and city to pause the project until it could be reevaluated this June.

The remodel is intended to address several features by creating a separate drop-off area for donations, improving traffic flow on S.E. 34th Street and making aesthetic upgrades to the front of the building. Redesign plans will also increase parking capacity for the shop and neighboring Mercerdale Park and expand retail floor space. In November the Thrift Shop conducted a traffic study to estimate impacts. Shortly after, council and staff decided to postpone it until further review.

“Every city is facing diminishing revenue...It does worry me,” said Youth and Family Services (YFS) Director Cindy Goodwin of the project hold. “I think we're trying to figure out how to have more long-term stability.”

Sixty-three percent of the store’s proceeds go toward YFS, in a public-private partnership with the city and school district, that funds the full gamut of programs, from substance abuse and prevention counseling to juvenile court diversion services.

Early talks proposed the purchase of bonds to fund the remodel. In August the project price tag was estimated at $1.7 million if a multi-purpose room was included in the final design, all but $400,000 of which would be paid for by bonds.

By those same estimates, the expanded Thrift Shop is expected to bring in $450,000 in shop revenue. But the financial budget of the project was based on 2013’s projected sales growth targets. Baseline growth is required to fund YFS services, said business coordinator Suzanne Philen, and to pay back money borrowed for the expansion project.

The Thrift Shop last year expanded its schedule to seven days a week and converted some production space into more retail square footage. But the store is heavily dependent on its volunteer base and a decline in volunteer hours and work study students in the second quarter made it difficult to staff the shop Monday through Sunday, said Philen.

“We lost several volunteers,” explained Goodwin. “With less staff, revenues take a dip...When something like that happens, we’re more susceptible.”

Staff are hopeful and beginning to tackle the issue by firstly addressing its staffing model. Philen said that Thrift Shop leadership were recruiting community members to serve on the sales floor, process donations and run the cash register. Work study was reinstated this fall, allowing the Thrift Shop to hire more and with specific jobs in mind, tasks tailored to workers’ areas of interest and expertise so as to better retain them. Philen says that when the shop can revive its volunteer base it will return to opening on Sundays.

“This is always a concern along with the rising finance rates for borrowing money,” said Philen of the paused project. “That being said, we are careful to approach this project by responsibly managing our risk.”


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