September 30, 2014

Goodwill coming to town

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Thrift store will be nonprofit’s first in Vt.

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Goodwill Industries plans to open its first-ever Vermont thrift store here in Williston.

The nonprofit, which sells donated household goods and clothing in its stores to fund training and job placement programs for people with disabilities, will occupy retail and warehouse space at 329 Harvest Lane. The building, owned by developer Al Senecal, will also house a health food store and a consulting firm.

The Williston Development Review Board last week approved his plans to retrofit the building and add parking spaces for the new tenants.

Randy Finemore, director of retail programs for Goodwill Industries of Northern New England, said the new store would allow the organization to tap into Vermonters’ good will.

“It’s just that I think we are aligned with our values, that we fit well in a state that cares about helping people from a social perspective,” he said.

In addition to clothing, Goodwill stores typically carry household goods and knickknacks that “some people think of as yard sale stuff,” said Mike Coughlin, executive director of Goodwill Industries of Northern New England. Some stores offer larger items such as furniture and appliances.

Inventory varies among stores because they depend on donations, so it is unclear what the Williston Goodwill outlet will have for sale when it opens. Couglin said Goodwill tries to tailor offerings to each community.

Goodwill will occupy about 10,000 square feet of retail space on the second floor, and use about 12,000 feet of warehouse space in the sprawling structure, said Senecal, owner of Allenbrook Development Inc., and Omega Electric Construction in Williston.

Natural Provisions, a health food store, will move into a 10,000-square-foot space on the building’s lower level, Senecal said. Daybreak Intellectual Capital Systems Inc., a computer software consulting firm, will move into office space on the top floor.

(Disclosure: the Williston Observer leases office space from Senecal in Taft Farm Village Center.)

The project initially raised concerns among town planners and the Development Review Board. The board tabled the permit application at its June 26 meeting until Senecal submitted revised plans showing how all the space would be used and addressed other concerns about the project.

The delay irked Senecal, who told the board that the building had been vacant since office supply company Boise Cascade moved out about two years ago. He said Goodwill needed the space as soon as possible.

“I can’t stress enough that this town and this board is supposed to work with us to make this happen,” he said.

Couglin confirmed that Goodwill wanted to move in this fall. He said that season was a particularly busy time for its stores.

The project will more than double existing parking to 128 spaces. A new loading door will be added to the building, as well as a drive-through, drop-off area for Goodwill donations.

Senecal said he is still awaiting a state Act 250 permit. He hopes to receive that within the next few weeks, and then have the building ready for his new tenants by fall.

Goodwill Industries International is one of the world’s largest nonprofit providers of education, job training and career services for people with disabilities and others who are having trouble finding employment, such as victims of domestic violence and refugees. About 60 percent of its funding for those programs are generated by sales at its retail stores, according to the organization’s Web site.

Goodwill will build relationships with area businesses to help clients find employment, Couglin said. He noted that Goodwill Industries already has existing employment services contracts with a couple of area companies.

The new store will give Goodwill, which has more than 2,000 retail outlets, a beachhead in Vermont. Finemore said the warehouse space would be big enough to allow the location to serve as a hub for other future retail stores in the state.

The organization has yet to determine where those stores will be located. For the immediate future, Finemore said, Goodwill will concentrate on garnering donations to stock the Williston outlet.

“It’s going to be central to our success to gain community support for the store with quality, gently used donations,” he said.

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