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Thrift stores waiting beyond phase one to reopen

Nicholas Calandra is preparing to reopen the Hearts for the Homeless thrift store in Buffalo.

But it's not going to happen for at least a couple of weeks.

Even though Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo gave the Western New York region the green light Monday to begin phase one of the gradual reopening since the Covid-19 outbreak, Hearts for the Homeless, Goodwill of Western New York and Salvation Army of Buffalo say they will wait until phase two – at the earliest – to reopen.

Phase one includes construction, manufacturing and curbside retail and drop-off. But the pickup-only rule is not practical for their business model, said representatives of the three charities.

"For our situation, it didn't make the most sense, particularly ours because we're very heavy on shoes and clothes," said Calandra, CEO of Hearts for the Homeless.

"If someone calls and says I need sneakers in a size 10, someone would have to take all size 10 sneakers off the shelf and take them all out" curbside for the customer, he explained. "It's not like we would take (a specific pair) off the inventory shelf in the back."

To prepare for his shop's eventual reopening, Calandra already has ordered sneeze guards for cash registers, designated a reopening procedure protocol person and has been working on letters to send to his staff.

Cuomo identified four phases in the gradual reopening with each one scheduled to start two weeks after the previous one.

Goodwill spokesperson Linda Maraszek said the organization's 11 stores "don't fit the bill" for phase one reopening.

"We're not a traditional retail business. It's not the type of business where someone can say I'd like to order a size medium shirt, and we come out to their vehicle with it. People come in and browse and find things they didn't even know they were looking for. It's a shopping experience," she said.

But beginning Tuesday, Goodwill – which has 11 stores in Western New York – began providing customers with a curbside pickup option at its stores for orders placed through the organization's online auction site, shopgoodwill.com. During the Covid-19 pandemic, only shipping had been available before.

The Salvation Army runs nine thrift stores in Erie and Niagara counties and won't be back up and running in phase one, either.

"That's just not practical," said Capt. Andrew Ferreira, program administrator.

Ferreira is not sure when the stores will start operating again. He is waiting for instructions from corporate headquarters, which is monitoring states' reopening plans, he said.

"We're opening as soon as we can. Certainly not phase one," he said.

Salvation Army already has national standard operating procedures to dictate protocols at its retail centers, such as how many customers are allowed inside at a time and how often employees clean counter spaces, Ferreira said.

As for donation drop-offs, all three organizations will resume acceptance of donated items when their stores reopen.

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