Debra Shipp didn’t mind fighting the crowd of shoppers swarming the new Goodwill Industries store on Zebulon Road during its grand opening Thursday.
She was happy to help out.
“It’s a wonderful, nice store that’s a great place to shop and help other people,” the Lizella woman said. “When you shop and donate here, you help people find jobs. And in this day and time, people need jobs. It’s kind of like being part of a ministry.”
Moments earlier, the 200 or so shoppers had split into anxious lines on the storefront sidewalk, waiting as dignitaries gathered to open the 9,600-square-foot retail and donation center at Plantation Village.
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The yellow ribbon was running late for the noon ceremony. Chamber of commerce officials, like many shoppers, had a hard time finding parking spots.
The new store’s donation drive-through is expected to generate 20,000 donations each year — or 800,000 pounds of material goods — which will be resold, reused or recycled. Revenue will help fund Goodwill’s job training and placement programs.
“All the donations that come through here will be stocking this store,” Amy Chastain, Goodwill marketing and communications manager, said prior to Thursday’s opening. “It will take those donations to keep a store this size stocked.”
None of the “gently used” clothing — except for a few seasonal items — remains in the store for more than four weeks. There are sections for children’s, men’s and women’s clothing, along with dressing rooms, books, music, DVDs, home decor and small appliances.
“Anyone who hasn’t shopped at a Goodwill store will be pleasantly surprised,” said Chastain. “We don’t put anything on the floor that isn’t ready to wear.”
‘Recycle and look good’
Two days before the grand opening, a crew at the new Goodwill store on Zebulon Road labored in the midday sun, laying brick on the donation drive-through.
Inside, workers also applied finishing touches. They assembled displays, stocked linen shelves, checked the racks holding about 24,000 garments — most sorted in color-coded arrangements.
A man on a ladder installed high-tech lighting, called “gobo.” The projectors will shoot “mission images” on the walls so shoppers can see Goodwill success stories and meet some of the more than 5,000 people the organization has put to work in the past five years.
“We’re trying to make it a better storytelling venue so we can educate people that every time they shop or donate, they’re helping people develop their God-given gifts and go to work,” explained Jim Stiff, president and CEO of Goodwill of Middle Georgia.
The store moved into the former Market Square, a high-end furniture, home decor and interior design store. The site is ideal, Goodwill officials said, noting that the area has been one of the best at generating donations during the past 15 years.
“It’s a great location because we’re very close to our donor base,” Stiff said. “And because we made the store so upscale and a unique shopping experience, our donors are now becoming shoppers.
“We’ve created a little bit of a new fashion trend, especially with the economy where people don’t have as much disposable income. Goodwill really is meeting some needs from a shopping perspective at a different strata within our society with more than just people who have traditionally shopped at Goodwill. ... It’s a smart thing to do, to recycle and look good at the same time.”
The “upscale resale” model should fit nicely with neighbors that include a wine gift shop, Kohl’s and several restaurants.
“The tenants are excited about the increased traffic we’re going to bring,” Chastain said. “We’ve had some people who work around here call and say, ‘Is it open yet? Is it open yet? We plan to spend our lunch break over there shopping.’ ’’
McAllister’s Deli, located at the opposite end of a strip of businesses there, set up a tent at Thursday’s grand opening, giving away lemonade and cookies. “Anything to bring customers through this shopping center is a help,” said McAllister’s manager Mike DeCesare. “We’re looking forward to them coming in.”
Selling the mission
For every dollar in revenue generated from resales in Goodwill stores, about 84 cents is used to underwrite job training and placement services within the agency’s 35-county service area, officials said.
The more than 5,000 people placed in competitive employment during the past five years have created more than $100 million in new payroll purchasing power, Chastain said.
“In the last year alone,” Stiff noted, “we helped over 1,500 people that were unemployed get competitive employment.”
In addition to helping place the unemployed and underemployed, Stiff said, the agency has created more than 600 jobs on its own payroll since 1995. About 20 full-time employees will work at the new store. In addition, disabled and disadvantaged workers will train there as they accept and process donations.
“Down at Robins Air Force Base, we clean 4 million square feet every day with almost 150 people with disabilities who do that work,” he said. “There are all these things we do behind the scenes.”
Part of the new store’s mission is to help shoppers and donors gain a better understanding of what the agency does, or as Stiff puts it, to “unpeel the onion for them.”
“That’s one of the things we’re shooting for, to help more of the people to understand the mission of Goodwill,” Chastain said. “We want people to know why they’re donating, what kind of impact they’re having in the community. ... They know they are helping people. They don’t know exactly how they’re helping people.”
Chastain took that message to Springdale Elementary School where she spoke to classes in kindergarten through fifth grade.
“I taught them about the three key words — shop, donate, work — so they could learn the mission of Goodwill and how they could help.”
Students from nine classes designed posters that were used to cover the windows during renovations of the store.
Anna Bryson, 22, of Columbus, a senior mass communications major at Georgia College & State University, interned with Goodwill as the store prepared for its opening.
“It’s been a great experience to see how something like this gets up and running,” she said. “You definitely see the passion of the people who work here.”
To contact writer Rodney Manley, call 744-4623.