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Thrift Store Struggles to Make Rent

Rent Increase Forces Thrift Store Out

Mary Fittro, store manager at the Good Shepherd Thrift Store, shifted boxes of shirts and shoes from the backroom to the crowded floor of the Sterling store Friday afternoon. The store was crowded with families with small children and high school students who sifted through racks of vintage clothing on sale for $3.99.

Despite the steady stream of customers and an influx in clothing and furniture donations, the Good Shepherd Alliance Thrift Store, located in the Regal Center off of Route 7, is in danger of losing its space due to an increase in rent.

"We can’t pack a whole lot more into this store in order to bring proceeds up and pay the rent," Fittro said.

The owners of the space, Fittro said, continue to increase the rent, due to the increase in property value of the prime location.

"I guess it’s not their fault," she said. "It’s happening all of Loudoun. It’s happening to all of us nonprofits. We just can’t afford it."

THE NONPROFIT ORGANIZATION was forced to move out of its former space, next to Shoppers Food Warehouse, off of Route 7 in Sterling, in 1999.

Fittro packed up the store and relocated to the space in Regal Center. She has been there for seven years.

"It’s convenient for Sterling residents and it’s easy to get to from other places like Great Falls and Reston. We get a lot of people who donate from there, too. We’re convenient," she said. "We want to stay, but we can’t afford it."

Mark Gunderman, vice chairman of the Good Shepherd Alliance’s Board of Directors, said the organization was forced to relocate from their former location due to the same reason.

"The rent went up there," Gunderman said. "We couldn’t afford it. We had to move on then. We have to move on now."

Gunderman and his fellow board members are in the process of looking for a new space for the store.

He said the Board of Directors is looking to purchase a new space, rather than rent, if the opportunity presents itself to do so.

"We’re looking, but we have to be careful," he said. "Space is very hard to come by in Loudoun County. We would like to buy something if we could swing it."

THE THRIFT STORE is a project close to Fittro’s heart. And it is a profitable one.

The thrift store revenue makes up 35 percent of the Good Shepherd Alliance’s bank account. The money generated from the store goes to employee salaries, as well as Good Shepherd Alliance projects and supplies.

"We’re self-sufficient," Fittro said. "I don’t see a dime from the Good Shepherd Alliance [Board of Directors] because we don’t need it. Our profits pay for salaries, utilities, everything it takes to keep us going."

The Sterling space is lined with racks of coats, pants, wedding dresses, prom attire, lamps, books and kitchen tables. While the store might appear to be somewhat chaotic, Fittro manages to keep a running tab of inventory in her head.

Fittro’s employees helped a family move an air hockey table out of her store onto the bed of a truck.

"Oh good," Fittro said, "now I have room for that entertainment center I got a call about this morning."

Fittro said she is not worried about losing her loyal customer base if the thrift store is forced to move out of its space to a new location.

"A thrift store is one of those places," she said, "if you move it, people are going to find you. They’ll hunt you out."

SEVERAL WEEKS AGO, the Good Shepherd Alliance named Lyle Werner, a Leesburg resident and former CEO of the Loudoun Free Clinic, the interim executive director of the outreach group.

Gunderman said Werner’s background in business makes her a good fit for the organization.

Werner said one of her main goals, for now, is to find new ways to generate money from the community, "one of the wealthiest in the nation."

"We’re a nonprofit. We run on donations," she said. "It takes a consortium of people to care for the needy in the county."

The thrift store is open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fittro accepts donations Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

"If we could get people to make monthly donation, it would make a huge difference," Werner said. "For just a couple of lattes a week, it would make a difference."