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PTA Thrift Shop to get major facelift

By Susan Dickson
Staff Writer

Nearly 60 years ago, the PTA Thrift Shop opened its doors to collect donated goods and sell them for the benefit of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. Today, the shop is asking for the community’s help as it plans a major redevelopment with a green, pedestrian-friendly plaza surrounded by office and retail space.

For years, the PTA Thrift Shop was “sort of this vagabond thrift shop, where wherever we could find space, we sold stuff,” PTA Thrift Shop executive director Barbara Jessie-Black said. In 1960, the store found its first permanent location at 508 W. Franklin St., where it was located until it moved to Jones Ferry Road in 1978, where the shop remains today.

“A few years ago, we actually talked about expanding and growth,” Jessie-Black said. But with the economic downturn in 2008, the PTA Thrift Shop lost about $90,000 in revenue over two years, and the expansion was put on hold.

Recently though, plans began to take shape, and the shop launched a campaign to raise $1.7 million of the $5.1 million needed for a 27,000-square-foot redevelopment of the site. Plans include nearly 14,000 square feet to accommodate the PTA Thrift Shop and 13,000 square feet of space available for lease.

“We want to be able to continue to support the school district in a very robust way,” Jessie-Black said. As the community and the school district grow, Jessie-Black said she hopes the PTA Thrift Shop can increase its donation – currently more than $200,000 annually – to be able to support that growth.

“The PTA Thrift Shop is an important community resource that reminds us all to live in a sustainable way by recycling those items we no longer want or need,” Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Superintendent Neil Pedersen said in a statement. “Additionally, it is a creator of community in bringing together parents from across all 18 schools to share and collaborate while doing the work of sorting and displaying merchandise in the shop.”

While the new space for the shop is actually only about 12 percent larger than the current space, the design is more efficient, with donation space and offices brought under the same roof as the shop. The PTA Thrift Shop’s executive offices are now adjacent to the shop, across its parking lot.

“From the operational side, it means that whenever things are donated to use they actually have a home,” Jessie-Black said. “There will be none of this trying to figure out where to put stuff.”

The new design includes a larger space to process clothing and hard goods, including collectibles, dishes and similar items, which will allow staff to get donated items on the floor quicker. The shop will also feature a more open design, making it easier for shoppers to maneuver through the store.

Having tenants in the additional space available for lease will also improve the store’s bottom line, Jessie-Black said.

“Adding that additional revenue stream into our current existing operations will allow us to have a larger net profit and distribute more money to the school district,” she said.

Jessie-Black said she doesn’t have any particular types of businesses in mind for the retail and office space, though she and other staff would like to see businesses with similar missions move in.

“We’re looking for organizations that have synergy with what we do and whose core values have to do with the triple bottom line of sustainability,” she said. “For us, that’s really important.”

A unique development

Though there have been several recent attempts at new retail and office space in Carrboro and Chapel Hill, Jessie-Black said she thinks tenants will be drawn to the space the PTA Thrift Shop will offer.

“I think our location is unique,” she said. “We’re right here, kind of in not quite the center of town.

“We have a lot of foot traffic, we have a bike path, we’re on the bus line.”

In addition, the design of the project, which will look “like a community meeting place,” will attract potential tenants, she said.

“We’re a really cool organization,” she said. “If I were renting space, I’d want to be here.”

Aaron Nelson, executive director and CEO of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, agreed that the location is ideal for the project.

“I think it’s the right project in the right location,” he said, adding that the location has great foot traffic in addition to car traffic. “It’s going to enliven that intersection.”

Nelson said he believes the development will help bring customers to nearby businesses.

“It’s going to grow Orange County retail sales,” he said.

Construction is expected to begin this fall, with completion scheduled for June 2012. Jessie-Black said she encourages community members to donate to the project at whatever level they are able. Thus far, the shop has raised about $36,000, with a goal of $1.7 million by the end of the year.

“We’ve really never asked for money from the general public,” Jessie-Black said. “We hope that once the word gets out that people will support that.”

For more information, visit ptathriftshop.org

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