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News / Clark County News

New thrift store appears on horizon for The Arc

Nonprofit looks to save services funded by Value Village contract

By Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
Published: January 12, 2018, 7:23pm
4 Photos
Megan Rugh, left, resource guide for The Arc of Southwest Washington, helps her client, Sondra Thompson, play bingo at the Luepke Center. Guides like Rugh help people stay engaged in the community.
Megan Rugh, left, resource guide for The Arc of Southwest Washington, helps her client, Sondra Thompson, play bingo at the Luepke Center. Guides like Rugh help people stay engaged in the community. (Ariane Kunze/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

If all goes as planned, Vancouver Plaza will get a new thrift store this spring run by and benefiting The Arc of Southwest Washington.

The nonprofit’s contract with Value Village is ending in April, said Executive Director David Wunderlin. Although the Vancouver Value Village store closed in November 2016, the local Arc continues collecting used goods and selling them to Value Village at a per-pound rate. The closest Value Village store is in Tigard, Ore.

Wunderlin and others at The Arc of Southwest Washington are focusing on how to “build a bridge away from Value Village” — making the nonprofit more self-sustainable. The Arc has had a tumultuous financial history that it’s gotten under control in the last few years. Still, selling used goods to Value Village makes up about half of its revenue, Wunderlin said.

Although the mission of The Arc is to serve people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, its identity has been intrinsically tied to collecting donations of used goods. If The Arc lost all the money it gets from Value Village and didn’t replace it with another revenue source, Wunderlin said, “we would have to cut back tremendously on services in our community.”

The Arc provides services such as supported living arrangements, representative payee services and guardianships. Resource guides go out into the community with clients to help them socialize, explore and learn skills.

When Value Village closed its doors, the for-profit company indicated it might open a store elsewhere in Vancouver. So, Wunderlin said, The Arc waited around for a while, but it now appears another Vancouver Value Village is not going to happen.

The Arc of Southwest Washington talked with industry consultants and looked at other successful Arc branches operating their own thrift stores. Arc Thrift Stores, a chain of more than two dozen stores in Colorado, has become one of the largest employers of people with disabilities in the state. The Arc of Spokane Thrift Store supports programs for more than 7,000 people with disabilities.

Based on what he learned, Wunderlin thinks another good, value-priced thrift store could thrive in Vancouver. It would be owned and operated by The Arc of Southwest Washington with its success hinging on the assumption that people will continue supporting The Arc.

The nonprofit still has some money to raise before opening the store.

“I think maybe this will end up being a blessing for us,” Wunderlin said.

The “icing on the cake,” he said, is the jobs the store could supply for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

Things are already in motion. This-N-That Thrift Store is leaving the unit at Vancouver Plaza that The Arc would occupy. This-N-That benefits the Clark County Christian Center and is trying to find a new location. Vancouver Plaza is owned by Cafaro Northwest Partnership.

People Wunderlin talked with said their biggest caution with opening a thrift store had to do with establishing a collection method and relationship with the community. The Arc of Southwest Washington already has that, he said. It’s been collecting donations for decades and the nonprofit itself has been around (under various names) since 1936. It’s one of nearly 700 Arc chapters around the country.

Value Village suit

Meanwhile, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s lawsuit against TVI Inc., the for-profit company that operates Savers and Value Village, is ongoing. As reported last month in The Columbian, Ferguson filed a complaint in King County Superior Court where he alleges the Bellevue-based company deceived consumers and donors for years. TVI, represented by law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, preemptively filed a lawsuit against Ferguson saying his settlement negotiation demands “violated TVI’s First Amendment rights.”

However, Ferguson claims the First Amendment does not defend fraudulent charitable solicitation, which is unprotected speech. “TVI has and continues to deceptively represent to consumers shopping at its chain of retail stores that in-store purchases benefit charities,” a motion filed Jan. 3 said. It says that TVI did not agree to the state’s proposed injunctive requirement that it disclose to shoppers and donors the amount TVI pays for donated items. On the other hand, TVI claims that it already does some of the things Ferguson demanded. It discloses that it is a for-profit company and does not claim that charity partners are paid a portion of sales from Value Village stores, according to TVI’s suit.

From Wunderlin’s perspective, each side is telling different stories and conflicting sets of facts. He doesn’t have any complaints about his organization’s decadeslong relationship with Value Village.

“As to who’s right and who’s wrong, I don’t have any opinion on that, but it’s too darn bad,” he said.

Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith