Staff, customers 'stunned' as city's only Salvation Army thrift store closing

·3 min read

The closing of the Salvation Army's only London thrift store will be a huge blow to its east-end community, especially for residents who rely on the charity for everyday items, staff and patrons say.

The store's lease at 1960 Dundas St. expires July 31, and the building's new owner has no intention of renewing, a Salvation Army spokesperson said. So the store will stop accepting donations June 30 and close its doors for good July 8.

"They will be using the site for their own location," Clara Pina, of the Salvation Army Thrift Store's national recycling operation, said by email.

The organization does not plan to relocate because it could not find another "suitable" building, she said.

Stacey Snow and Marlane Napier, two of 38 employees who will lose their jobs with the closing, said they feel "misled."

Though told in January the store would close, they only learned Monday that it wouldn't relocate, they said. A letter of notice to workers was posted in the building Monday afternoon, they said.

"We have been working hard to ensure sales were up so they would want to reopen the store," Snow said. "Then we realized . . . they've known since January. Everyone is stunned."

Joe Hitchcock is an official with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 2, which represents the store's employees. He said the workers are entitled to severance and that upper management "are giving us their word" they are searching for another location.

"They haven't had any success yet. We're sitting down for the next little while to go over the final closure agreement," he said.

Since opening in June 2000, the store has developed a reputation as a friendly, go-to source of nifty finds for cash-conscious Londoners, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. With homelessness, addiction and mental illness, and the cost of living on the rise, the store was "a beacon of hope" to the community, Snow said.

Its loss "is such a blow, and not just because (customers) come in for low prices or stuff. It's a social thing, too," she said, offering many older folks a daily dose of social interaction.

News of the closing caught several loyal customers off guard Wednesday.

"I'll miss it. I always like thrifting here, and I also like donating here," Londoner Sue Kisch said. "It's a great cause. A lot of the thrift stores now are for-profit."

"It's sad. This is is our favourite thrift store," said Asha Molina, who visits often with her husband and their four young kids to shop for clothing, toys and housewares. "It saves a lot of money when we buy."

For Kincardine's Ann and Scott Hesch, thrifting is part of their routine when they drive into the city for weekly medical appointments.

"It's a great store," said Scott, who's picked up everything from vehicle emergency strobe lights and oil filters to a historic 1.2-metre clock from Amsterdam — a $19 steal now part of his expanding clock collection.

For Ann, collectible Precious Moments figurines are her "to-die-for," she said. "I just bought two today."

“It sure is going to be missed,” Napier said. “It really will.”

The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada

Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press