locally owned since 1854

No, thrift store isn’t open yet; but planned changes include coffee shop and consignment area

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 12/13/17

Contrary to a rumor that’s been floating around on social media, the Interfaith Senior Service Thrift Shop on South Union Street in downtown Middletown had no plans to reopen on Tuesday, Dec. …

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No, thrift store isn’t open yet; but planned changes include coffee shop and consignment area

Posted

Contrary to a rumor that’s been floating around on social media, the Interfaith Senior Service Thrift Shop on South Union Street in downtown Middletown had no plans to reopen on Tuesday, Dec. 12.

Some of the scuttlebutt could have resulted from the thrift store sprucing up its windows in recent weeks to give it that holiday feel.

That is meant to complement the other holiday-oriented things going on in the downtown, such as the Christmas tree lighting and the Santa Claus house.

“We’ve redone the windows three times. We didn’t want the building to look like it was forgotten,” said Ellen Willenbecher, president of the board that runs Interfaith, the nonprofit organization that owns the store and the building at 17 S. Union St. which had housed the store from 1991 until its closure on Oct. 7.

The board closed the store because the thrift shop was not bringing in enough revenue to cover its costs to operate. That meant that the store had no money left over to support Interfaith’s mission of supporting the elderly and people with disabilities.

Willenbecher had used the word “temporary” back in October when the store’s closure was announced.

The board hopes to reopen the thrift store by the end of 2018. But reopen really isn’t the right word, because when the board does reopen the doors, what people will find inside will be a lot different — and, the board hopes, a lot more exciting.

There will still be a thrift store, but there will also be a new downtown coffee shop with Wi-Fi, Willenbecher said. There will be a consignment store catering to young people such as Penn State Harrisburg students, and another section where local vendors can rent space to sell their wares.

The board believes that in 2017, Interfaith can no longer afford to put all its eggs in one basket — the basket being the thrift store. And when the building you own is 5,200 square feet, there are a lot of different things you can do with it.

The goal is to develop a new mixed-use venue with “multiple things going on in there, to create more foot traffic so it is vigorous and can be sustainable,” Willenbecher said.

Interfaith will continue to own the new venue. As a nonprofit entity, whatever money is left over after the venture covers its operating costs will go toward supporting the Interfaith mission.

Willenbecher said that the board is taking this opportunity to also look at the Interfaith mission statement, which since 1974 has been to support the elderly and “the handicapped,” to directly quote the statement.

“Middletown is a little different now than it was in 1974. It just seems reasonable that we look at the mission,” she said.

The board could choose to “reaffirm” the mission statement as it is now — while cleaning up language to get rid of out-dated terms like “handicapped.”

The outcome of this re-assessment isn’t known yet, but one constant is that money derived from the thrift shop and its companion enterprises “will stay in Middletown.”

“Whatever our mission becomes, that downtown enterprise is really not a business, but a social enterprise to support the goodwill of the Interfaith mission,” Willenbecher said.

The board is also looking at repairs and renovations that need to be done in order for the building to serve the Middletown community for many more years to come.

These needs include but are not limited to fixing a leaky roof, and upgrading the electrical and lighting systems.

The board is working with Herb Moore, a local contractor, in drawing up a to-do list that also includes making the building look more attractive, inside and out.

“If you are going to be a new enterprise, you need to look like a new enterprise,” Willenbecher said.

At this point, the board does not know how much all of this will cost, or how it will be paid for.

Willenbecher did not identify any grants or other sources of dedicated funding. The board is hoping to keep costs down by relying as much as possible on volunteer help from the community.

As a first step, the board is planning to hold a “community shopping day” on Saturday, Feb. 17, to help clear out the large amount of inventory that still remains in the thrift shop.

A lot of inventory has already been given away to various organizations in the community. Interfaith will continue with these donations.

But Interfaith is also hoping to raise money through sale of the inventory items to the community to help offset the cost of the repairs and renovations that are needed.

The physical infrastructure work must be done before the coffee shop and the rest of this “social enterprise” can open to the community.

But the goal is to be open by the end of 2018, Willenbecher said.