Plans for Thrift Store Irks Merchants in Upscale Shopping District

February 28, 2011; Source: San Francisco Chronicle | This is the kind of story we expect to read when retailing giant Walmart says it's planning to build a new outlet in town. This time the culprit is Goodwill, which wants to open a thrift store in Berkeley's upscale commercial shopping district.

Merchants in this California city oppose the plans because, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, they fear "it would be a magnet for the homeless, noisy delivery trucks and bargain-hungry shoppers not likely to patronize the area's boutique baby stores and Persian rug shops." Says Anni Ayers Forcum, who owns a jewelry store in the area being scouted for a Goodwill store: "We need specialty stores that will draw people here, and that's not going to be Goodwill."

Not surprisingly, it's Solano Avenue's popularity as a shopping district that also makes it an attractive location for the nonprofit's thrift shop. "We're looking at Solano Avenue because there's a lot of foot traffic, and we don't have much of a presence in North Berkeley and Albany," said Kimberly Scrafano, the group's vice president.

To prevent the store from opening, some merchants are collecting signatures for an anti-Goodwill petition and making the argument to the city that a thrift store would have a damaging effect on the neighborhood. "We have nothing against Goodwill, we just don't think they belong on upper Solano," said Gerry Ruskewicz, an employee of Sottovoce women's clothing boutique. "We're worried about the homeless and people leaving bags of donations outside."

While that sentiment is shared by many merchants, it's not universal. Hannah Hernandez, owner of a used children’s clothing store says she doesn't feel "threatened by them coming in. We provide different services. I'm really not worried about it."

Because Goodwill hasn't yet signed a deal with a landlord for space, the city can't act either way on the proposed project. But, if it goes ahead, the nonprofit surely hopes to find lots of good will for its plans.—Bruce Trachtenberg