Video and reporting by Chase Downey, contributor
Six months after Mercy House moved its second thrift store to Timberville (from University Boulevard in Harrisonburg), Shannon Porter, the organization’s executive director, explained that the decision is part of a broader strategy aimed at providing more opportunities for low-income people.
“We viewed the opportunity in Timberville as an opportunity to also do something good for the town of Timberville…the retail space had been vacant for years,” Porter said, “But now we’ve got something that you can anchor that downtown area with, and people are gonna want to come to our location. We believe that it’s going to improve the overall community.”
Mercy House still operates its thrift store on South High Street in Harrisonburg but closed its thrift boutique, which was located on University Boulevard. The organization had opened that store in 2015.
The move, which the organization completed in late November, has saved money because of the higher overhead costs in Harrisonburg, especially because the organization owns the entire building where the store is now located.
“We have a greater economy of scale when you own the building and you’re able to defer some of those sunk costs into that of the retail operation into the broader operation of the building itself,” Porter said.
The building also includes six apartments, which are all currently occupied by previous tenants. Mercy House, however, does not intend to displace these tenants, instead deciding to take a longer approach.
“We want to make sure that the people that want to stay in those units can stay there. And as long as we’re getting a fair return on those units to be able to maintain the property, pay the taxes, keep the building up, we’re going to honor those rents”, Porter said. ”But when those units become available again, we will be looking at putting those in a more subsidy driven environment, where we will be taking someone who has fairly low income but is trying to develop and grow and put them on a sliding scale.”
Porter said Mercy House plans to allow low-income tenants to pay less expensive rent as they develop their education or job skills, and as their ability to earn income increases, their rent will increase as well.
Mercy House plans for these types of arrangements to last for up to three or four years, which the organization believes is a “reasonable amount of time for a family or young person to be able to get their life back on track.”
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