Roanoke City Councilwoman Gwen Mason, running for the General Assembly, says she's "buying my campaign wardrobe at Goodwill" unlike Sarah Palin^
By DAN SMITH
When CEO Bruce Phipps held open the door for the first customer at the 29th Goodwill Industries retail store in the Market Square East Shopping Center on U.S. 460 in Roanoke this morning, it was simply the fulfillment of another in a long string of ambitious goals that the economy has not thwarted.
Goodwill is one of the few retail businesses in this region--or perhaps any other region--that is thriving in this economy, perhaps even because of this economy. "Customers are being more frugal with this type of purchase so they have that money for other, more necessary purchases," he observes. A look around the six Goodwill stores in the Roanoke Valley (seven come spring with the addition of a store at Botetourt Commons in Daleville), though, tells yet another story. When school is not in session, many of the customers are young, school-age girls enthusiastically shopping with their mothers or in groups. That says "trendy" and in retail "trendy" is a magic word.
Phipps is not quite sure how to react to that observation. "Maybe," he says, "it is a reaction to all the press we've gotten." Maybe. But do 13-year-old girls pay attention to "press" or do they shop where their friends shop? Once upon a time, buying used clothing--even the upper end stuff sold by Goodwill in recent years--was verboten among the cool. It has become de rigueur.
In any case, the news is good for one of the region's largest and most successful retailers, one that recycles as much of the donated goods as it sells. Phipps stresses that only the best donated goods make the cut for re-sale. The rest is goes to missions, foreign countries or--as a last resort--is cut into cleaning rags. "It's all used," he stresses. "Every bit of it."
Goodwill has become a regional powerhouse with its 29 stores in a region that goes from Charlottesville and Harrisonburg, to the Roanoke and New River Valleys and down to Martinsville. The new stores are large, organized open and clean. The service is quite good and the clothing selection is at at least as good as that at most department stores, though this is hardly Paris runway to you.
Goodwill recently spent $7.7 million expanding and updating its corporate headquarters on Melrose Ave., where workers are trained. The company has 825 employees and the new store adds 20. There are 435 employees working solely in "donated goods," says Phipps. Revenue last year for this division was $24 million. The new store is 13,600 total square feet with 10,500 of that retail. The Daleville store, to be in Botetourt Commons by March or April, will be about the same size, says marketing manager Suni Heflin.
In addition to the stores, the training, the job counseling (18,000 people helped last year, with 565 getting jobs in competitive situations), Goodwill works at Forest Park Academy in Roanoke teaching kids how to use their money (who better?).
(This Facebook comment from Kara Dickerson Smith: "Yes, Goodwill is the newest cool place to shop ... I remember going to get intentionally crazy outfits for something theatre related in high school and not finding enough "crazy" ... we had to go to one of the other thrift stores because the stuff at Goodwill was too "nice" to do what we wanted..."
(This from Julie Snowman in Lynchburg: "I've shopped for clothes, especially jeans, at Goodwill for years - need to go again, but everytime I go the parking lot is full!"
(This from Becky Mushko of Smith Mountain Lake: "I've gotten some great stuff at Goodwill."
(Suzanne Echols Schupp of Austin, Tex.: "I love it there.")