Social media in Verona has been abuzz recently over the impending move of a Goodwill thrift store into a vacant downtown storefront.
But much of it has been misinformation, a representative from Goodwill of South Central Wisconsin told the Press on Monday, March 9.
An October post about the store in community Facebook group, “What’s News in Verona,” received 80 comments from users including “Yuck. What an eyesore,” and “Goodwill = NO Thank you.”
Other commenters raised concerns about how Goodwill pays employees with disabilities and called for more small businesses in the area instead.
A more recent post on the NextDoor app – with 60 comments since Feb. 23 – had a variety of responses, some welcoming, others complaining and even accusing it of not being a charity organization.
Several alders said in meetings of the Common Council that they had never received as much feedback from constituents about any other issue.
Janet DesChenes, the organization’s vice president of mission and brand development, said misconceptions about the company’s structure and payment of its employees were driving some of the outcry the store has received on social media.
In October, the Common Council voted against allowing Goodwill to make multiple changes to the facade of the former World of Variety building on South Main Street. The upgrades would have included a new roof, lighting and donor entry door.
But that vote did not prevent Goodwill from opening a thrift store in the building.
In Plan Commission and Common Council meetings last fall, alders raised concerns about how traffic in the area would be affected.
But city administrator Adam Sayre said other companies who had looked at leasing the space did not have the money to make it work.
Despite the vote against the facade changes, the company decided to go forward with leasing the building for the store, which is set to open in June or July, according to VP of operations Tony Lawson.
Both DesChenes and Lawson said the many of the fears voiced by Verona residents were unfounded. Lawson said that at Goodwill of South Central Wisconsin, for example, employees with disabilities are paid at least minimum wage, like other store employees.
Lawson said he was glad Goodwill could repurpose the building after it has been vacant for two years.
DesChenes emphasized that although Goodwill is a nationally recognized brand, Goodwill of South Central Wisconsin, which covers 14 counties, is a locally run and operated nonprofit. Goodwill’s national website states that it helps people eliminate barriers to employment with job training and other services.
DesChenes said the organization had already begun reaching out to possible community partners such as the Verona Area School District and the Badger Prairie Needs Network about their program to provide shopping vouchers to families in need and connect the store with people needing jobs.
“It’s kind of the double-edged sword of being a nationally recognized brand,” DesChenes said of local resistance to the store opening.“It’s not the old thrift store as some people may think.”
Lawson said that although the proposed changes would not be allowed, Goodwill would revamp the inside of the building, the parking lot and its landscaping. The old carpets inside the building will be replaced with concrete floors, and the interior will have an open floor plan.
Lawson said the changes will give the store a similar appearance to that of the Goodwill stores in Middleton and Stoughton.