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You Know The Economy Is Bad When Thrift Stores Start Closing

(Todd Clausen)  Leo Scarantino pulled up in a pickup truck packed with two televisions and a large dresser to donate to the Volunteers of America resale center on Lake Avenue.

The Rochester resident was among the last allowed to drop-off donations after the Volunteers of America Upstate New York announced on Tuesday that it was closing 11 thrift stores and a distribution center. The closing will leave 103 workers without jobs.

“It’s beyond sad,” Scarantino said. “This is the fiber of America … and now we can’t do that anymore. It’s unfortunate.”

Loses mounting to more than $1 million this year forced the agency to take a closer look at its resale division, which costs about $5 million to operate, said JoAnne M. Ryan, president and CEO. She said the thrift stores, which first opened during the 1950s, were intended to offset some of costs of the agency’s programs.

Stores in Rochester, East Rochester, Webster, Brockport, Canandaigua, Batavia, Palmyra, Warsaw, Elmira and one near Binghamton will be closed by the end of September. The agency plans to assist displaced workers to find new jobs.

“I recognize this is a major change in our organization, but I want to assure you that the Volunteers of America is not going away,” Ryan said. “We deeply regret the impact these closing will have on these employees and our local customers and shoppers. It’s for these reasons we are trying to provide as much notice as possible.”


Mounting competition from new discount retailers and consignment shops in the area along with online sales and two harsh winters in a row ate away at revenues from the VOA stores. “Those bitter days result in folks staying in,” Ryan said. “Unfortunately this has created a perfect storm of factors resulting in a corresponding decline in sales, which ultimately made it impossible for the stores to generate enough revenue to cover the increases associated with operation(s).”

The national resale industry is a $12 billion a year business that has been growing about 7 percent a year, according to the Association of Resales Professionals. There are currently more than 25,000 resale and consignment shops in the country.

Locally, ABVI-Goodwill expanded its own resale operations about four years ago with Blue, an upscale shop on Monroe Avenue in Pittsford. The Salvation Army of Rochester has 11 of its own stores operating in Rochester and other areas in the region.

There also are more places to drop off used items. Churches and communities have drop-off points and some of those sites aren’t connected to the places like the Salvation Army or the Volunteers of America that use donations to help fund programs.

“A bag of shirts to us helps a person stay in our program and feed them and run the utilities,” said Jennifer Helpard, administrator for the Salvation Army of Rochester.“The donation losses would cause us to be down and it was especially true in the bad weather months, end of February and in March. It took a few months to regroup. It is tougher than it used to be for donations.”

She said those looking to provide donations would be welcomed by the Salvation Army. “If I had to put on an additional driver, I would do it in a heartbeat,” she said. “We would be there.”

As for the Volunteers of America, Ryan said the agency would focus more on its core programs of helping those in poverty, needing emergency shelter and other housing support, along with growing educational programs for children and a new 60-unit affordable housing project for seniors. She said the agency serves more than 6,000 annually.

She said the thrift stores would stop accepting donations immediately. Those appointments that have already been scheduled will be honored.

“Although we will no longer be seeking donations of clothing and household donations to be sold in our stores, we will still need the community’s support to take on the tough challenges of homelessness and poverty,” she said. “It is more important now than ever for us to concentrate on efforts of breaking the cycle of poverty.”

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List of VOA thrift store closings

214 Lake Ave. in Rochester

821 Culver Road in Rochester

825 Fairport Road in East Rochester

827 Ridge Road in Webster

4750 Lake Road in Brockport

39 Eastern Blvd. in Canandaigua

587 East Main St. in Batavia

3778 Palmyra Newark Road in Palmyra

461 N. Main St. in Warsaw

700 Sullivan St. in Elmira

519 Hooper Road in Endwell (near Binghamton)