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Business Briefing: Used goods store revives payments to SF nonprofits

Assistant Editor

Brian Stump, interim executive director, sits in the extensive furniture area of the Community Thrift Store. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Brian Stump, interim executive director, sits in the extensive furniture area of the Community Thrift Store. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

Over its 39 years of operations the Mission-based used goods purveyor Community Thrift Store had never missed a payment to the numerous San Francisco nonprofits it helps support. That is until last year.

The business run as a nonprofit was upended by the COVID-19 pandemic just as its for-profit retail counterparts were during much of 2020. With San Francisco officials ordering nonessential businesses to shutter at the start of the health crisis, Community Thrift shut its doors at 623 Valencia Street mid-day March 16 and remained closed until early June.

It reopened for curbside shopping on June 12, 2020 in the middle of Pride Month, a fitting return for an operation begun as a way to raise money to support local HIV and AIDS service agencies. Today, it helps support over 200 local nonprofits that run the gamut from providing art instruction to Bay Area youth and caring for animals to preserving LGBTQ history and addressing the needs of queer older adults.

People who donate items such as used clothing and furniture for Community Thrift to resell can select the charity of their choice they want the purchase of their donated goods to financially support. Community Thrift shares the sale with the designated nonprofit, with the charity's share varying between 30% and 55% each quarter. Between 2012 and this year it will have disbursed $3 million to local charities.

It normally sends out the disbursement checks to its nonprofit partners on a quarterly basis. But with its operations mothballed last winter through the spring, Community Thrift had to postpone the payments as it weathered the pandemic.

"We had to put the disbursements on pause during the shutdown since we weren't operating and didn't have any revenue streams coming in," said Brian Stump, Community Thrift Store's interim executive director for close to two years now. "We were focused on supporting our staff for those first several weeks with their pay and benefits. Our focus was on their well-being, that was one of our priorities during the mandated shutdown."

While working from home the employees turned their attention to boosting the store's online presence and planning how to resume sales in a safe manner. They began showcasing items on their Instagram account and turned their sidewalk-fronting windows into display cases as a way for customers to see what was available when they started the curbside sales (It does not offer online sales).

In-store sales resumed on July 16 last year, with only a handful of shoppers at first allowed in and required to follow safety precautions such as mask-wearing. As the local COVID case counts ebbed, Community Thrift gradually increased its capacity limits.

"Things picked up in January and from there things have been steadily improving, both sales-wise and donations," said Stump, 39, a straight ally who began working for the store 16 years ago in its electronics department.

Community Thrift returned to normal operations and an easing of its safety protocols for shoppers this past June 15. But now, with the Delta variant surging across the region, the store is again requiring everyone to wear masks inside the store and when dropping off donations.

"We now of course have the mask mandate in SF as well, helping us to enforce this rule," noted Stump, adding that most of the staff is fully vaccinated.

In May, Community Thrift was financially able to send out disbursement checks for 2020 that totaled $109,025, a significant drop from the $469,451 distributed in 2019. The payments ranged from $200 to $6,700 and were calculated based of the charities' donation attributions last year with additional money distributed to support those that did not earn a check through in-kind donations.

"Every one of our charity partners received a check for this disbursement," noted Stump. "Even the charities that didn't earn anything in sales last year were given a check."

Those payouts were followed up in June with disbursement checks for the first quarter of 2021. A total of $59,891 was given out to the store's partners, this time with checks ranging from $100 to $3,100. This month, the second quarter checks will go out, totaling $130,814 and ranging from $100 to $9,200.

"As business has picked up and stabilized over the past few months, we are happy to be able to increase disbursements significantly this quarter," said Stump. "We are here to support our charity partners; it feels really good to do that."

Likes its business operations, the nonprofit's search to hire a permanent executive director was put on hold due to the health crisis. Stump wouldn't comment on the hiring process except to say he is interested in the position.

And he urged people to support the store by both being frequent shoppers and by donating goods for it to sell.

"I don't know if the mission has changed so much as the support is really needed by these nonprofit organizations to provide the services they do, probably more so now than ever," said Stump.

Community Thrift is now open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and accepts donations any day between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. For information on the items it takes for resale, how to arrange for free furniture pickups in San Francisco, and to see the list of its charity partners, visit https://www.communitythriftsf.org/

UPDATED 8/12/2021 to clarify how the 2020 disbursement checks sent to Community Thrift's charity partners were calculated.

Got a tip on LGBTQ business news? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail m.bajko@ebar.com

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