is our Saturday Dollar Store & Sunday Quarter Store, located in the alley behind the Community Closet on Park Street (119 1/2 North E)
History of the Alley Annex
Within two years of opening The Community Closet Thrift Store, we realized there was a huge gap between the amount of donations we took in and the materials we could actually sell. During 2006, our first full year of business, we threw out 10 tons of solid waste and our second year yielded 65 tons. When solid waste bills started to exceed $1,000 per month in 2008, we realized we had to take action or the cost of our waste stream was going to hurt our ability to fund community grants.
There was simply not enough space in our thrift store building to display everything that was donated. Overcrowded racks at a thrift store made shopping so difficult that some people stopped trying. We knew increasing our customer base was important to increasing sales, but in order to recruit new consumers we had to eliminate the difficulty of shopping for used goods. We had to eliminate a lot of the low-value merchandise that was hogging space on our store floor and making it unpleasant to shop. However, we had neither the facilities to accommodate this merchandise nor access to the secondary “rag market” given our geographic isolation and limited building footprint.
It became clear that we had to create a pollution prevention program based solely on our local economy and customers. It needed to be implemented quickly given the rapidly rising costs of disposal. As our business took off, it became clear that our waste stream was positively correlated to our revenue stream: as donations increased, revenue increased, and the waste stream increased.
When we were overrun with donations, we would periodically hold quarter sales to clear out some of the excess volume. During these sales, we realized that many people who would typically ask for vouchers for no-cost materials could actually pay 25 cents per item and shop with a renewed sense of pride that they could take care of their own family’s needs.
In the summer of 2008, a small house across the alley from the thrift store became available. We saw it as the ideal space to open a store that would sell overflow at the market-clearing price for poverty of 25 cents an item. The initial business plan showed a net loss of $4,000 per year. Even so, the Board of Directors approved the Alley Annex project because of the potential for outreach and the impact on poverty in our community.
We found additional cost savings that we had not anticipated in the form of reduced demand for no-cost vouchers. Within a year of opening the Alley Annex Quarter Store, our no-cost gifts to folks in need (those referred to us by social service agencies) had dropped by 70%. This generated an additional $3,000 per year in thrift store merchandise that was sold instead of given away. The program cost $1,000 per year, while making a substantial contribution to our community in the form of very low or no-cost merchandise and significantly reducing the materials sent to landfill.
It also provided us with valuable insights in materials management that proved important for designing and implementing future pollution prevention programs. The Alley Annex property became an important part of our operations, as we had the space to enter the commercial recycling business.
The Alley Annex Today
In 2014, we purchased the Alley Annex property and gave it a makeover. Household goods and kitchenware are now right up front where there is more room, and additional racks and shelves have been brought in for an improved shopping experience.
A permanent Dollar Store has been set up in the Alley Annex and is the latest addition to the Community Closet’s successful and multipronged effort to redefine philanthropy and thrift-store shopping. The Dollar Store marks the seventh outlet the Community Closet employs to reuse, recycle, and reinvest in the community. The other six are the Curated Closet, Community Closet Thrift Store, Sunday Quarter Store, Mobile Unit, Commercial Textile Recycling, and Free Bins.
“By adding the Saturday Dollar store to the menu, we will increase revenue for charitable giving while reducing our garbage expenses,” said Caron Cooper, CEO and founder. “I am hoping for a 20 percent reduction in the materials we throw away.”
The purchase of the Annex property will require a higher revenue stream, and The Dollar Store will provide a significant contribution to reinvest in property management needs, including accessibility improvements.
The Alley Annex is open on Saturdays and Sundays, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and most Holiday Mondays with everything a nickel.