GUILDERLAND — The regional Goodwill Industries organization has moved its second-busiest store from Colonie to Guilderland and is preparing to open a new drop-off location on Central Avenue.
Goodwill has seen some decline in customer traffic and sales this year, but is finding that interest in thrift shops remains strong among those willing to venture out and shop.
The Fuller Road store in Colonie had been one of the best-performing among the 22 retail locations operated by Goodwill Industries of Greater New York and Northern New Jersey, second in sales only to the Brooklyn store. But the Fuller Road lease expired and the organization looked for a new site after discussions with the property owner, according to President and CEO Katy Gaul-Stigge. They settled on a building that previously housed a Rite Aid, at 2025 Western Ave. in Guilderland.
Sitting near the Route 20/Route 155 intersection, it occupies one of the busiest locations in the region for traffic volume, and one of the few comparable to the busy Fuller Road/Central Avenue intersection where it once sat. This is important to Goodwill NYNJ, which relies on regular donations to fill its racks and regular sales to empty them.
“Convenience is the key to donations, so we are excited to have a drive-in window that’s a little bigger than it had been,” Gaul-Stigge said.
The old window where motorists would pick up their prescriptions is now a door, and there’s a canopy overhead that will keep donors dry during inclement weather.
The bright, open space of the new Guilderland store and its prime location mean there’s probably more cost involved in setup and operation than there is for some other thrift stores, which raises the risk of a diminishing return — does it draw enough extra traffic because it’s attractive and convenient to pay for the extra cost of making it attractive and convenient?
Gaul-Stigge said that’s the formula that works for Goodwill NYNJ. Other stores are set up with the same factors in mind.
“You do have to invest to make the donation convenient … We are trying to attract a younger shopper who’s interested in her environmental impact,” she said. “Clothing has a big [carbon] footprint. By choosing to wear thrift, you’re making a sustainable choice. I wear thrift clothes almost every day — it’s a lifestyle.”
This has become a secondary mission of Goodwill Industries — diverting from the landfill some of the mountains of clothing that Americans no longer fit into or not longer want.
Goodwill NYNJ last year took in 43 million pounds of donated goods, much of which was subsequently browsed by women (and men) looking for bargains or hoping to find a treasure.
Some of it can’t be put on the racks, and is sold in bulk to be recycled into new products such as automotive sound insulation and industrial carpeting. Some that is put on the racks doesn’t sell, and those pieces are shipped to Goodwill outlet stores. If they still don’t sell, they too are recycled.
“We’re trying to share that secondary message,” Gaul-Stigge said of sustainable shopping. “It wasn’t our core [mission] but it’s a fact.”
The core mission since Goodwill Industries International was founded in 1902 has been workforce development — helping those who have trouble working enter the workforce.
“Our mission is to empower people with disabilities and barriers to employment,” Gaul-Stigge said.
Goodwill NYNJ listed 488 volunteers and 3,887 employees on its 2018-2019 filing with the IRS. Only about 700 employees are involved in the retail operations that are the public face of Goodwill. Many of the rest are in workforce development or work for GoodTemps, Goodwill NYNJ’s temporary staffing division.
The organization placed about 2,000 people in jobs in the previous fiscal year and provided coaching to a few hundred to help them keep their jobs. This year, it has assisted hundreds of previous placements who lost their jobs because of COVID restrictions.
The 156 Goodwill organizations across the nation are autonomous nonprofits separate from Maryland-based Goodwill Industries International. Some periodically come under criticism for paying their disabled employees subminimum wages, as allowed under a clause of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.
Goodwill NYNJ ended the practice in 2016, after Gaul-Stigge became CEO.
In the Capital Region, Goodwill NYNJ has expanded its partnership with the state Office of Mental Health to get people into temp work. The organization derives substantial revenue from grants and from program services, and substantial benefit from its partnerships — in one example, the NYC Sanitation Department and New York Road Runners forwarded exactly 1,043,303 pounds of running gear discarded at the last seven runnings of the New York City Marathon.
But individual donations of used goods (1,089,759 drop-offs in 2019) and retail sales of those same goods are still critical to its business model. In November, Goodwill NYNJ will open an attended donation center — a site where people can drop off goods, get a tax receipt and quickly be on their way — at 1252 Central Ave. in Colonie to help keep fresh inventory rolling in.
As for so many retailers, COVID-19 has been a major problem for Goodwill NYNJ. All of its stores shut down at the height of the pandemic.
With operations back underway, donations are set aside for 72 hours before being processed, as per CDC guidelines, and everyone has to mask up, shoppers and employees alike.
Meanwhile, the organization has offered value pricing such as $1 Tuesdays and has presented its racks as the source of creative, affordable Halloween costumes. It has also promoted its online store, where $7.99 will buy a pair of Banana Republic pants (good condition with minor stains) or an Austin Reed fluffy sweater (excellent condition, color black).
All of this has helped Goodwill NYNJ’s retail shortfall but has not eliminated it. The organization hasn’t even reopened ten of its stores yet. (In the Capital Region, the Amsterdam store is closed but the Brunswick store is open.)
“It’s had a pretty bad impact, like all retailers, and we are hurting financially at this point,” Gaul-Stigge said.