The Economic Engine That Could – Alley Annex Celebrates a Decade of Community Impact

July 19, 2018

 The Community Closet’s overflow store the Alley Annex is celebrating ten years as a community-fueled economic engine that could. By offering overflow goods at bargain prices and reducing disposal costs, the Annex plays a vital role in the Community Closet stores’ business model of segmenting the resale market into three Livingston venues that link together as the community’s engine of reuse, recycling and community benefits.

 

All are invited to celebrate the Alley Annex’s 10th anniversary with all goods 10 cents on Saturday and Sunday July 21 and 22, 2018. If you haven’t been to the Annex before, it’s the little house off the Alley behind the Community Closet.

 

The Alley Annex opened its doors in the summer of 2008 as a much-needed overflow outlet. After just three years in business, Community Closet’s success in attracting donations resulted in more low-value products than we had space to sell or warehouse. A major challenge of thrift store economics is the disposal of these less-than-perfect used goods. Our organization had to dispose of literally tons of solid waste at costs that were impacting the amount of funds available for community grants. We had to think creatively to move inventory more quickly and reduce waste cost-effectively in order to meet our mission and respond to local demand and supply economics.

 

An early approach to reducing inventory surplus was a popular 25 cent sale. Community Closet founder Caron Cooper says, “We observed that shoppers who previously used the no-cost vouchers we had distributed to social service agencies were happy to make purchases at that price point.” When the little house across the alley from the thrift store became available Cooper and the Community Closet Board saw it as the ideal space to open a store to sell overflow at market-clearing prices matching poverty budgets. While the Alley Annex business plan initially showed a net loss, the Community Closet Board of Directors approved the project due to its potential for outreach and impact on poverty in our community in addition to reducing waste disposal volume and expenses. 

 

The Annex became a little engine that could as we switched up schedules and price points until we found a combo that kept it chugging along at a brisk pace. A powerful effect of the Alley Annex model has been an 80% reduction in demand for no-cost vouchers from folks in need referred to us by social service agencies. This generates thousands of dollars of merchandise that is sold instead of given away and empowers people in poverty by giving them the opportunity to take care of their household needs at the Annex. The result has been to divert 10 tons of materials annually from the landfill between the Alley Annex and our free bins. Now the Alley Annex has a strong future and, with the voucher savings, it pays for itself.

 

These accomplishments resulted in a national pollution prevention award for cost savings and enhanced environmental quality. Additionally, our philanthropic resale model has allowed us to contribute over $400,000 to date in grants to Park County community non-profit groups and households in need. A recent Rocky Mountain Economic Development District report also showed that since opening in 2005, our organization has generated more than $5.5 million in economic development and produced nearly $670,000 in tax revenues.

The little Alley Annex that could is now open weekends 10 am – 1 pm with everything a $1 or less on Saturdays, 25 cents or less on Sundays and holiday Mondays everything is a nickel. After the Annex is closed most of the remaining inventory is then rolled out in the front of the store as free bins, and by the end of the week it’s almost all gone.

 

Longstanding Community Closet and Annex employee Robin Zank says, “We see a lot of teachers and volunteers coming in to the Annex to stock up on supplies for kids, young parents with babies, people on the garage sale circuit, newcomers outfitting their homes, and more people visiting from out of town are utilizing the Annex and finding out about it from word of mouth.” She observes, “The Annex has more games and puzzles than the Community Closet because we figure for 25 cents on Saturday, a nickel on Sunday, it isn’t a big deal if it’s missing a piece or two. Parents often give their children money to pick out their own toys, games or clothes at the Annex. I love helping the kids work on their math by asking how much change they’ll get back from their purchase and seeing the pride on their faces when they leave with their treasures.” Zank says that Alley Annex shoppers are particularly excited to find electronic equipment and cameras and has noticed entrepreneurs creating small incomes for themselves by re-selling goods they’ve purchased at the Annex.

 

Community Closet’s need for storage and more floor space for overflow sales has continued to grow and plans are underway to expand the original location and build on our innovative business model for pollution prevention, philanthropic second-hand sales, and meeting community needs. Learn more about the Community Closet stores and philanthropic giving at https://www.communitycloset.org/

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