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Customers lament losing Cottage Grove thrift store.

Byline: Karen McCowan The Register-Guard

COTTAGE GROVE - This time of year, the jingling of Salvation Army bell-ringers is usually associated with good cheer. So shoppers at the charity's thrift store here say they were particularly shocked to learn this week that the longtime store would be closing Jan. 15.

Social worker Anne Hensen said the store at 118 Gateway Blvd. goes well beyond the traditional thrift store role of providing affordable secondhand clothing and household goods.

"They also have items that one can use in home maintenance - door hinges, handles for rakes or shovels, old wood to make home repairs and parts for lawn movers," she said. "This store is a vital part of the social structure here. It allows the poor to get what they need with dignity, to remain self-reliant."

The store, located for 17 years in a high-profile strip mall next to Bi-Mart, was a crucial resource when Hensen was a single mother working her way through college.

Longtime customer Marla Miller said the store's employees - some have worked there as long as 11 years - are "almost like family" to regulars such as herself.

"I'm a disabled person and I depend on the store being open," she said. "We do have another nonprofit stores still in town, Goodwill, but I've found this store to be more affordable, and we all have rapport with the staff."

Miller said she and another customer, Cathy Carlson, are collecting signatures on a petition so they can appeal the Eugene leadership's decision to the Salvation Army's Oregon headquarters in Portland.

Major Joe Murray, a Eugene-based regional director for the Christian charity, said he hated having to tell the store's seven employees this week the store will close. But the Salvation Army can no longer afford to subsidize the Cottage Grove store, he said. The charity will attempt to transfer the Cottage Grove employees to other jobs within the organization if positions become available, he added.

"We truly are sorry and sad that this is happening," he said. "But during the 2004-2005 fiscal year, the store showed an approximately $50,000 deficit. Despite changes and adjustments of the past 12 months, sales are still down. We've used reserves to keep Cottage Grove afloat, but we can't keep doing that. We have to use the money in other places. We are totally supported by donations and what we generate through our thrift stores."

The Army's social services for the poor include assistance with clothing and household needs, rent, prescription drugs and utility bill assistance. Those services - and its thrift stores in Eugene and Springfield - still will be available to needy Cottage Grove residents, he said.

But Drain resident Gloria Wells said many of the store's regular customers are low-income residents of remote, rural communities in Northern Douglas and Southern Lane counties.

"It will be even more of an effort for us to go to Eugene," she said.

Murray said sales at the Cottage Grove store have fallen steadily since it began experiencing competition from "the big-box store that happens to be out there." Though he declined to name the competitor, Cottage Grove's only national discount retail store is the Wal-Mart store, located across the freeway on the northeast part of town for nearly a decade.

While the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops has not raised the issue, some of its members have charged that discount, for-profit retailers have bitten into their sales.

On the other hand, Wal-Mart has welcomed Salvation Army bell-ringers at its locations when other national chains have not. Wal-Mart also teamed nationally with the Salvation Army to extend this year's "Red Kettle Campaign" in response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster. And Terry McDonald, executive director of the Catholic St. Vincent de Paul Society's Eugene-area programs, believes that the Wal-Mart store on West 11th Avenue in Eugene has boosted sales at his agency's nearby thrift stores.

"Since they came in, our business has done nothing but go up," he said. "I do not consider Wal-Mart a competitor."

In any case, Cottage Grove-area residents and community leaders are not ready to give up on keeping a Salvation Army store in town.

"I would hope they will reconsider," said Tim Flowerday, director of the Cottage Grove Chamber of Commerce. "Their leaving would be a loss to the community. I know a lot of clients from (local social service agency) Community Sharing depend on shopping there."

"There has to be another approach," Miller said. She noted, for instance, that the store is likely paying premium rent for its high-profile location.

"Maybe someone who owns another, less-expensive building in the area would be willing to donate space in exchange for a tax break. ... We want this store to stay."
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Title Annotation:Business; After 17 years, the Salvation Army says it can no longer afford to subsidize the outlet
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 3, 2005
Previous Article:Eugene-based bank acquires NWB Financial.
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