After decades in Whitehorse, the Salvation Army thrift store is shutting its doors for good.
Its last day will be April 12, the organization announced March 1.
The store on Fourth Avenue loses money, said executive director Ian McKenzie. Add to that an increasing amount of unsalable trash being dumped at the doorstep, and the store wasn’t viable anymore.
“The amount of work we’ve had to put in to try and sustain the store or address the shortfall there … it just ends up sort of taking focus away from other things that are critical for us.”
McKenzie won’t say how much money the store loses. The Salvation Army has been trying to come up with a solution for some time, he said.
Last year, in an effort to save money, the organization got rid of its truck and driver who used to provide pickup and delivery.
Staff have also worked with the landlord to build a gate in the backyard in an effort to stop people from dropping off bags of unwanted goods when no one is looking.
Even with the gate in the back, people still leave bags containing “essentially garbage that wasn’t suitable for sale,” McKenzie said.
“Virtually every morning when we come in, the front door has bags stacked in front that we have to deal with.”
That usually means taking the time to sort what’s there and drive loads of junk up to the dump.
“The time and cost that’s involved in that is certainly one of the factors that has been growing over the last couple of years,” McKenzie said.
That Salvation Army doesn’t track how much donated goods are actually trash. But the problem McKenzie described is not unique to the thift store.
Last year, when the City of Whitehorse decided to shutter its free store at the dump, officials estimated that only 10 per cent of the items left there ever found a new home.
The closure of the thrift store combined with the end of the dump’s free store will likely leave a void for people looking for cheap or free second-hand goods.
Raven Recycling, which runs Whitehorse’s only other free store, saw an uptick in use when the city’s site closed, said executive director Joy Snyder.
They’re expecting something similar when the thrift store shuts down.
But there may be a solution on the horizon. Raven Recycling has recently been approved for nearly $20,000 from the Yukon’s Community Development Fund. That money is to hire someone to staff its free store.
Until now, the free store only had someone come in the mornings to sort goods and keep things organized, Snyder said. This new employee will work nearly full time to help manage the store and collect data on how it is used over six months starting in April.
That research will be the first of its kind in the city, Snyder said.
“We need volumes, we need to know what type of stuff comes in, we need to know if it’s useful, to whom it’s useful, and how do we make the connection.”
The new employee will also be researching different business models used by thrift stores around Canada.
“We want to put a business plan together to find a community model that works,” Snyder said. “We can assume that the Sally Ann model didn’t work. It was a valuable service, but it wasn’t sustainable.”
They’ll also hopefully deter people from leaving trash behind.
“Part of staffing (the new position) is also educating the public on what’s reusable,” she said.
The hope is to come up with a plan for a community thrift store that is financially sustainable. It’s not something Raven would want to run on its own, Snyder said.
But when the city’s free store shut down, roundtable meetings took place with various non-profit organizations to discuss what should happen next.
One idea tossed around was to come up with some sort of shared community space for a store, she said.
“Everyone agreed that they wanted a community one, that it needed some partners, some non-profits that could sort of band together and use it for hopefully fundraising purposes and whatnot.”
It’s too early to say what that might look like or how it could be funded. But Snyder said collecting data on how Raven’s free store is used is a good first step.
Meanwhile the Opposition is calling on the Yukon government to sit down with the Salvation Army and discuss whether more money could be made available to keep the thrift store open.
“The thrift store does provide a valuable service to low-income Yukoners in making clothing and other goods available at an affordable price,” said Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers.
“Secondly, it does play a role in waste diversion from the landfill which is something that all governments have been talking about.”
The Salvation Army is preparing to open a new shelter in downtown Whitehorse soon. The Yukon government is spending $10.2 million on the project to replace the old, smaller, shelter.
McKenzie said he doesn’t think the new location will have room for a thrift store.
“The agreement with the government in terms of the social services funding for the project didn’t allow for that kind of activity and it probably wouldn’t be suitable,” he said.
Closing the thrift store means four full-time and eight part-time or casual employees are losing their jobs.
A close-out sale has already started and will continue until the doors are shut for good.
Contact Ashley Joannou at firstname.lastname@example.org