Subway closure hurts thrift shop business
DANVILLE — Lara Cottrill remembers when the Danville Salvation Army Family Thrift Shop did a fairly brisk business.
But Cottrill, who manages the store and warehouse, said business has fallen off since the city closed the Fairchild Street subway more than a year ago.
"We understand why. It wasn't safe for traffic. But day after they closed it, we started losing customers and getting fewer donations," Cottrill said, adding the store used to serve 80 to 100 people a day, but typically sees half that number now. "It's been painful."
So painful, said Capt. Judith Lowder, the executive director, that if donations and customers don't start picking up, the agency may be forced to close the store's doors.
Officials are studying ways to boost business, including changing the store hours to better accommodate customers. Starting next week, the store will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, which means it will stay open two hours later in the evening.
The store also is holding a Midnight Madness Quarter Sale from 6 p.m. Friday (today, May 25) to 1 a.m. Saturday. Items will be on sale for 25 cents, except for books, which are four for a quarter.
The Salvation Army runs its thrift store, food pantry, church services and other programs at its facility at 855 E. Fairchild St. The facility sits directly north of the east end of the subway or tunnel that carried Fairchild Street traffic underneath several sets of railroad tracks.
City officials closed the nearly 100-year-old structure after deterioration made it unsafe. They plan to replace the subway with an overpass that will carry traffic over the rail lines, and construction could begin later this year.
Lowder also believes that the April opening of the Goodwill store, farther west on Fairchild Street, has hurt the Salvation Army shop, too.
The thrift shop relies on donations of clothing, shoes, books, furniture, home goods and furnishings from the public. Agency officials said it offers the public "great bargains," and they can provide clients with vouchers to get items they need at no cost.
"It really helps families who have lost everything in a fire or other families who've had a job loss or been hurt by the economy," Sharon Sawka, director of social services.
Since October, the agency has provided clothing or other items to 789 individuals from 224 families. "The need has been growing," Sawka said.
The profits are used to support other agency services from emergency housing, food and medicine to youth programs. The agency provided those services to 4,802 individuals from 1,816 families between April 2011 and April 30, Sawka said.
While revenues vary month to month, Lowder said, the store generated about $5,000 in April.
"That's not enough to cover the bills," she said, adding the shop used to bring in an additional $2,000 or more a month. She added donations have dropped off by 80 percent.
Lowder said officials also have discussed other ideas to boost business, including restructuring the store and moving it to a more visible and accessible location.
"We're just trying to do whatever we can to keep us here," she said.
"The bottom line is, if we can't increase business and donations, we can't make payroll, we can't keep our lights on and we can't accomplish our mission of helping the community," Cottrill added. "I believe that once the Danville community is reminded that we're still here and of our need, they will step up."
Lowder and Sawka agreed. "When they hear about a need, they've always come through," Sawka said, adding the food pantry was in a similar situation last winter. "I've seen the community come together to help out many times. It makes me proud to live in Danville.
If people want to donate items, they can drop them off at the agency during regular business hours Monday through Friday.