The city of Mercer Island is moving forward with renovations to the Mercer Island Thrift Store, which closed mid-March due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.
At its virtual June 16 meeting, the city council passed a motion 6-1 that authorizes $50,000 for architectural services to begin design on the remodeling project. The motion also directs the city manager to provide a 30 percent design update before completing further design work.
“I really think this is the right thing to do at the right time,” councilmember Lisa Anderl said ahead of the vote.
The project involves the expansion of the retail floor space at the main thrift store location as well as the relocation of production spaces to the former recycling center building located at the Northwest corner of Mercerdale Park. Design, bidding and construction should take about four months. The total combined cost will likely come to around $500,000.
According to City Manager Jessi Bon, the closure of the thrift store, and the uncertainty around its future, presented an opportunity to again explore a previously discussed potential capital improvement project in the meantime.
In both 2013 and 2018, thrift-store expansion as a means to streamline operations was considered (in 2018, a consultant was hired to update the scope of work as well as the cost estimate). But in both cases, thrift-store expansion did not move past discussion.
The thrift store’s proceeds go exclusively to the Mercer Island Youth and Family Services (YFS) Department and has been running since 1975. In recent years, it has typically generated more than half the department’s annual resources. In 2019, for example, the thrift shop cultivated in total some $1.98 million, or $165,000 a month.
It was projected that the store would garner nearly $2 million in revenue, or 65 percent of the YFS fund, in 2020. But the pandemic altered this. As of June, all thrift store staffers have been laid off except for two managers.
At a June 2 meeting, $250,000 had been allocated from the city’s contingency fund to sustain YFS operations through Aug. 31. That allocation assumes that Mercer Island YFS wouldn’t be receiving any revenue until then.
Although among the primary purposes of the renovations is to ultimately make operations more efficient and financially sustainable, the city council will still, according to the meeting agenda item, need to revisit 2020 funding for the YFS Department down the road.
Of the renovations, councilmember Jake Jacobson, who is one of the liaisons for the project, said, “We’re just about at the finish line of being able to squeeze more out of that thrift shop just because of size.”
In the cases of both the thrift shop and the recycling center, Bon said renovations are time-efficient because they’re straightforward. They necessitate changes to the interior rather than the exterior of the buildings.
Five capital projects that had been planned ahead of the pandemic have been either suspended or modified, leaving about $807,274 in available funds. Bon clarified that suspension/modification does not mean they are going away indefinitely. They will instead be put on hold and then reconsidered during 2021-26 Capital Improvement Project (CIP) discussions.
Although the council was predominantly in support of the renovations, there was some concern about whether increased activity at the recycling center would have a negative effect on Mercerdale Park use and traffic in the area. Deputy Mayor Wendy Weiker, who was the sole dissenting vote against the motion, additionally invoked reservations about what demand from customers will look like and the strangeness she felt discussing the project in light of the numerous furloughs and layoffs in the city.
By passing the motion, the council is permitting the process of looking for an architect for design work. Next steps will include continued operation analysis work, including the staffing and volunteer model for both facilities. Reopening planning will commence; officials will develop plans as well as a new business model to increase donations corresponding to projected processing and sales boosts, per the meeting agenda item.
A short-term operations plan will also be considered. Bon projects that the next council update on the projects will occur at the end of July.