Published: Jan 08, 2013 07:00 PM
Modified: Jan 08, 2013 06:11 PM
After nine months and 600 gallons of paint, a former gym has become the Durham Rescue Mission’s third Thrift Store.
“I was a member here when they closed the door, and I started thinking,” said Ernie Mills, the Rescue Mission’s founder and CEO.
The store, built in the early 1980s as a Circuit City and later a Gold’s Gym, has a prominent location, on a hillside facing across Chapel Hill Boulevard toward Sam’s Club and Target. It’s “soft opening” Dec. 27 went well, said manager Rich Carr.
“The first day we had 660 (customers),” Carr said. “I had predicted 200.
“Thirty people were waiting at the door when we got here,” he said. “It was overwhelming.”
The Rescue Mission bought the store and its 2.6-acre lot for $2.5 million in March 2012, according to county tax records, and started remodeling in April. Now, it has 30,000 square feet of retail space with freshly painted off-white walls brightened by incoming sunlight.
“We tried to not be a typical what you think of as a thrift store,” Mills said.
Most of the space is filled with racks of secondhand clothing, with furniture, books and appliances – and an appliance-repair shop – in a side section formerly a basketball court. Currently there are about 25 employees, Carr said.
Many of the stores’ employees have been Rescue Mission residents and come through its rehabilitation and job-training programs, such as Bobby Taylor and Norvel Lewis.
Taylor said he went to the Rescue Mission instead of sleeping under a bridge one night – “I was tired of living that way” – and Lewis said he went there straight from prison – “I had burned all my bridges.”
Taylor’s first job at the Rescue Mission was moving firewood; he’s now the lead supervisor at the new store. Lewis started out cutting grass, he’s now manager of the Raleigh store.
“Stories like that, it gives hope,” Mills said.
If business at the new store warrants it, Mills said, it could eventually have a staff of 34.
“This is the beginning I believe of a great job creation,” said Mills. “That’s been my goal, to look around in the community to find a need and then somehow someway work up a business plan for creating the jobs where it can pay for itself.”
To help get there, Mills and Carr said, they need some more donations of merchandise.
“We’re in desperate need of furniture,” Carr said, “and household items like cups and plates. Clothing is good.”
Mills established the Durham Rescue Mission in a house on East Main Street in 1974. It moved into a church building at the corner of Main Street and Alston Avenue in 1978.
It turned a former motel into a shelter for women and families in 2005 and opened its first Thrift Store, on N.C. 55 at Cornwallis Road, the following year. In 2009, it opened a second Thrift Store, near Brier Creek shopping mall in Raleigh.
Mills is a minister and said he has no particular training in business or entrepreneurship.
“When your dad’s a sharecropper, you think of ways to make ends meet,” he said. “We learned those survival skills back on the farm and just transferred them to the needs of others.”