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Unwanted headaches for thrift stores

Discarded items impact profits, volunteers’ time

By Scott Bellile

Four resale shops throughout New London and Clintonville all face one common struggle: donors often treat the community thrift store as the town dump.

When people leave donations that aren’t on the store’s accepted items list, the business, often a nonprofit, pays a company to discard the item or diverts volunteers’ limited time from other tasks to deal with the problematic donation.

At St. John’s Community Thrift Store in New London, items the store cannot taken include exercise equipment, bicycles, computers and televisions. Televisions keep coming in to the point that a “no TVs” sign now hangs between the door and the dumpster, but it continues to be ignored.

The problem with TVs, store manager Wendy Nelson said, is the nonprofit must pay a trash collector $40 to haul them away if a scrap metal collector doesn’t grab it. She estimated the store has received more than 20 abandoned TVs in the last year.

“It really eats at our profits,” Nelson said.

The trash collectors’ expenses cut into what St. John’s can donate to local causes such as domestic abuse programs, a homeless shelter and children in need of school supplies.

St. John’s volunteer Pam O’Brien said paying to haul off unwanted furniture and TVs requires selling a lot of discount shoes and stuffed animals to make up for the fee.

Nelson said local rumors are false that tube TVs can be dropped off by the dumpster behind St. John’s and a woman on Bean City Road will pick them up.

“I don’t know where that started,” Nelson said. “All I know is Best Buy takes small televisions.”

In Clintonville, the biggest problem thrift store Neighbors and Friends faces now is Main Street construction is ruining its business, owner Paul Stoeklen said. So it hurts when Stoeklen has to pay $18 to have unusable furniture hauled away or $32 monthly to empty a dumpster full of junk.

He said he has to take the time to break furniture into pieces and recycle the metal.

“It’s a lot of labor,” Stoeklen said. “People have no idea what it takes to break up a couch and put it in the dumpster.”

Stoeklen said he is careful with how he handles unwanted donations because he doesn’t want to speak up too much and discourage people from donating altogether. He accepts almost anything in good condition, but he recently stopped taking tube TVs.

“We’ve got about 30 TVs there that we can’t move, and they’re all working TVs. But people don’t want analog TVs anymore,” Stoeklen said.

It costs him $15 to recycle each TV, so he continues to hold on to them and hope people will buy them.

Stoeklen said he plans to have an auction in the coming weeks because his inventory isn’t selling well with the construction going on.

For Jeff Hayes, director of New Beginnings Community Thrift Store in Clintonville, the lack of traffic is too an issue.

“[Unwanted donations do] happen, but it’s not nearly affecting us like the lack of traffic coming from the construction,” Hayes said.

Nonetheless Hayes said some view the store is viewed as a dumping grounds, especially after rummage sales.

Hayes pays $300 per month to empty his dumpster of everyday trash, but he once had to pay an extra $150 because the dumpster filled with junk before his scheduled pickup. He said any incurring expense above and beyond normal cuts into the ability of the store, which is run by Pregnancy Information Center, to “save babies’ lives.”

At the Most Precious Blood Catholic Church’s resale shop in New London, junk removal dips less into the store’s profits because St. Vincent de Paul takes problematic items and overstock off of MPB’s hands.

People are now more aware of what are acceptable and unacceptable donations than in the past, Fitzgerald said. But MPB still gets its fair share of junk, and the store’s shelves are crammed.

“Every week you get something that you don’t know what to do with,” Fitzgerald said.

The MPB Resale Shop’s volunteers are mostly women ages 60 and older, Fitzgerald said, so heavy unwanted donations are difficult to move. The volunteers sometimes enlist the students upstairs to help.

“We’re lucky that we have young kids now that they’re back in school,” Fitzgerald said.

Resale shops rely on community donations, so regardless of the problems they face they still encourage the community to bring in items in good condition. Every store’s list of acceptable items is different. To learn what can be taken, visit the store’s website or call its phone number.

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