Thrift Store Closing Put on Fast Track
Bargain Box volunteers and employees say that the 55-year-old Pinehurst thrift store will close this Tuesday, but Saturday will be the last day customers can shop there.
"(We got) a verdict yesterday," store manager Alice Stewart said on Wednesday. "(Customers) are absolutely furious. The phone has rung all day long with people that are angry."
The trustees of the Village Chapel, which oversees the store, voted to close the Bargain Box in January, citing competition from other area thrift stores, inferior donations and increased operating expenses.
Store workers said the board first told them that the store would close April 30, and later moved it up to the middle of March. Supporters have been rallying support since January to keep the store open.
"It's tough," Stewart said. "All of our customers are just in shock. They're in mourning."
Donald Zoller, chairman of the church trustees, said the April deadline was given as a "no-later-than" date, not a definitive closure date.
"We informed the congregation that it will be closed in the near future," he said.
Although store volunteers and employees said they had been notified of the Feb. 24 closure date Tuesday, Zoller told The Pilot on Wednesday that the board had "decided to keep that information to ourselves" as to when the store would close. The closing date, Zoller said, is a matter "internal to our church."
"That has yet to be determined, but it won't be on Saturday," Zoller said.
Dorothy Evans, the chairman of the Bargain Box Committee, said Zoller e-mailed her earlier this week, informing her that the store would close Tuesday, with Saturday as the last day it would be open for business. The store is not open for business on Sunday or Monday.
Evans did not want to give a copy of that e-mail to The Pilot, but she did read an excerpt from it over the telephone:
"The board will assume operational responsibility for the Bargain Box beginning on Tuesday, Feb. 27, on which day the Bargain Box will be closed for business," Evans read. "In view of these actions, no further help from volunteers is needed after Saturday, Feb. 24."
In a Feb. 15 letter to church members, Zoller wrote on behalf of the trustees that the decision to close was based "in the context of years of growing problems, both financial and managerial." The Bargain Box made about $100,000 last year, falling short of its $115,000 budget. About $90,000 of that income went toward operating expenses.
Zoller said Wednesday that while he was aware store supporters had signed a petition to stop the closure, his board has yet to see it.
"But have they or would they persuade us? No," he said. "The decision is made. Absolutely. There is no question about it."
Volunteer Jean Longfellow, who is not a member of the Village Chapel, said the board's decision to close the Bargain Box so quickly is unfair. Store workers, she said, are trying frantically to clear out merchandise before Saturday, and they won't have enough time to sell everything.
"(The trustees) are most un-Christian, greedy so-and-so's," Longfellow said. "Everybody who's come in here cannot believe it Everybody is so floored at the audacity of their high-handedness."
As for the future of the store's building on Community Road, Zoller wrote in that Feb. 15 letter that the church board "has no immediate or definitive plans to sell the property." A decision about the building, Zoller wrote, will "likely be made in several months."
"We, like so many in our community, are sad to witness the departure of the 'thrift shop with a heart,'" Zoller wrote in the letter. "We are proud of its legacy and the place it filled over the years in helping many in the community before other thrift stores came forward to assume its role."
The store will hold a $2 bag sale to get rid of merchandise fast.
Customers say they'll miss the store.
"I sure hate that it's going to close," said customer Viola McRae, who drives from Mount Gilead. "I'm really sad."
Store supporters said plans are in the works to stage a final protest of the closing, but they're not sure if any of that will make a difference now.
"There's all these ideas flying around -- what to do, what to do, what to do," Stewart said. "But it's just, you know, out of our hands."
Katherine Evans can be reached at 693-2480 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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