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Published: Monday, 3/1/2010

Toledo thrift store takes break for 1st facelift in 40 years

BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The St. Vincent de Paul thrift store in the Warehouse District is closed for the next three months to get a facelift 40 years in the making.

This isn't mere cosmetic nip-tuck. Survival of the store at 1001 Washington St. might depend on the overhaul.

Society officials hope the project boosts eye appeal and traffic thereby and slashes utility bills. The whole point is to have more money for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul's main concern: aiding the poor.

"The way it was going, [the thrift store] was going to falter at some point," said Ray Patterson, president of the society's Toledo district council.

"We need it to serve the poor. It's a vital link to the community here," Mr. Patterson said. "We were on the threshold of having to close it permanently. We can't af-ford to have that happen."

The temporary closing, which began yesterday, follows months of volunteer work by business professionals who reviewed the thrift store's finances, marketing, sales, and fund-raising and compared them to other thrift stores around the area and the nation.

"Bringing these men in was extremely helpful," said Willi Meyer, the store manager.

The store opened in 1946, and its last major renovations were decades ago. The ceilings are high. The paint is a sickly green. The carpet is threadbare in many places.

"It's not inviting," Mr. Meyer said.

The store and the adjoining warehouse will be cleaned, painted, and reorganized. The entrance will be moved, making the store accessible from a parking lot and to people with disabilities.

A new sign could catch the attention of passing motorists who have never noticed the large brick building.

"It's the cornerstone of the Warehouse District. It needs to stand out," Mr. Meyer said.

St. Vincent de Paul thrift stores around the United States fail on occasion because they're not financially viable, said Ray DuPont, of Austin, Texas, chairman of the national stores committee for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

"We always attempt to run our thrift stores both to help the community and to help the poor, but on a good, sound business basis," Mr. DuPont said.

"We depend on people who have money to spend so we can give goods away. You need both sides of that."

The not-for-profit thrift stores locally face competition from each other - St. Vincent de Paul, Salvation Army, Goodwill - and from consignment shops and discount stores, said Bob Huber, president and chief executive officer of Goodwill Industries of Northwest Ohio, which has 11 thrift stores in the area.

During the 1990s, Goodwill took steps to change its image and how goods are presented in the stores "to be very similar to regular retail, because people expect that," he said. "It does make a difference."

Unattractive stores pull in fewer shoppers, which for Goodwill means less money to fund its work force and its training and placement program for people with disabilities.

"This is the generator of funds we need to keep our whole mission side of Goodwill vibrant," Mr. Huber said.

That's the challenge for St. Vincent de Paul. Income from the thrift store helps the Toledo district council clothe and feed the poor and provides fire victims with second-hand appliances and furniture.

"[The society is] completely dependent on the generosity of the community for materials and money," Mr. Meyer said.

Some of the money and materials for the project have been donated. The Toledo district council also hopes to raise $125,000 to $150,000 for the renovations and to improve the store's financial standing, Mr. Meyer said.

Contact Mark Zaborney at:

mzaborney@theblade.com

or 419-724-6182.



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