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Downtown thrift store won’t be reopened; retail space to be rented out

By Laura Hayes

laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 4/25/18

The former thrift shop at 17 S. Union St. likely will be leased out to one or more businesses instead of being renovated and used as a combined coffeeshop, store and community space as announced …

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Downtown thrift store won’t be reopened; retail space to be rented out

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The former thrift shop at 17 S. Union St. likely will be leased out to one or more businesses instead of being renovated and used as a combined coffeeshop, store and community space as announced previously.

Interfaith Housing Board President Ellen Willenbecher told the Middletown Borough Council on April 17 that the organization plans to lease the former Interfaith Senior Service Thrift Shop.

Willenbecher told council that Interfaith decided to apply for a grant with the Dauphin County gaming advisory board. She asked the borough to consider co-sponsoring the grant with Interfaith.

The funds would be used to make the building more attractive to businesses. Willenbecher told the council that they would need around $150,000 for repairs including leaks in the roof, exterior renovations and upgrading the sprinkler system inside.

“We didn’t want to just sell the building, get some money to support our mission. We wanted to be sensitive to the possibility of if we put it up for sale, it could sit empty for a long period of time in downtown Middletown,” Willenbecher said.

The board owns the entire building. The lease decision affects only the first-floor retail space.

In an interview, she said Interfaith isn’t specifying what business it is looking to have lease the space, but it wants it to align with Interfaith’s mission and welcome Penn State students. Willenbecher said Interfaith will reach out to Middletown Business Association for advice.

“We do have final say as to what goes in there,” Willenbecher said.

Proceeds from the lease would go toward supporting Interfaith’s mission, which is to support children in the community.

“We would be very, very careful and sensitive to what would live in a premier spot in downtown Middletown,” Willenbecher said.

The thrift store was closed in October, and over the past couple of months, Interfaith reopened for several sales to try to get rid of the remaining merchandise and raise money to renovate the store. When the store closed, Willenbecher told the Press & Journal that the store wasn’t generating enough money to support operating the store.

“But now it’s closed and it’s going to remain closed until we have a clear sense on how to move forward,” Willenbecher told the council.

What changed? In an interview, Willenbecher said the thrift shop was meant to financially support Interfaith’s mission. Time, energy and resources went into funding the mission and not the mission itself, she said.

“We were, quite frankly, learning from our elders,” she said.

The decision was not influenced by Tattered Flag’s new coffee shop The Nuclear Bean that opened this month, she said.

She said Interfaith recently has been talking to commercial real estate agents, who said that having multiple types of the same business may draw additional foot traffic downtown and people could shop at one business one day and the other on other days.

Willenbecher said Interfaith hasn’t signed a contract with a real estate agent yet.

With more than 5,000 square feet in the shop, Willenbecher told the council that agents have been unsure whether one business would lease the space.

“So he’s wondering if there might be two small businesses. We would divide the space in some way,” Willenbecher said. 

Willenbecher said unsold merchandise remains and Interfaith will continue to donate it to local organizations.

Council member Angela Lloyd asked at the April 17 meeting whether Interfaith would obtain the grant and renovate the building before the agency started looking for a business or businesses to move in.

No, Willenbecher said. She said they planned to move forward with exterior renovations but might wait on interior renovations until they find out what type of space the lessee needs.

Interfaith also might leave some of the shelves in the shop for the lessee to use.

Willenbecher said Interfaith will sign a contract with a real estate agent in the next week. She said Interfaith doesn’t have a timeline for the project, adding that they didn’t want to rush.

Willenbecher encouraged interested people to contact her at 717-580-6907 or to contact the real estate agent after he or she is announced.