Two St. Vincent de Paul stores have opened in southeastern Wisconsin in the last four months, one operated by the Milwaukee County council in Greenfield and the other supporting the mission of the Racine County council in Waterford.
Both councils say they hope that these two additions will bolster revenue to support the society’s mission of ministering to the poor.
“The revenue that comes from this store is going to help the poorest,” said Rosemary Storts, president of the Milwaukee County St. Vincent de Paul board, in a June 2014 interview with the Catholic Herald, soon after the store was approved by the Greenfield Common Council. “Our St. Vincent de Paul volunteers make visits every day to people in need in almost every zip code area. This will help the poorest of those ministries and programs. It keeps them going.”
With the opening of the two new St. Vincent de Paul stores, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul operates 15 stores, two meal programs and a family support services site in the Milwaukee Archdiocese.
The St. Vincent de Paul stores listed by county are:
Fond du Lac
‘Stores are our mission’
The Greenfield store is located at 4476 S. 108th St., in a 35,000-square-foot facility that previously housed a Wal-Mart.
“Stores are part of our mission…. St. Vincent de Paul is kind of known for their stores, so when we were looking for this new source of revenue, it made sense to go with another store,” said Storts.
The Milwaukee St. Vincent de Paul already operates a store at 2320 W. Lincoln Ave., Milwaukee, and Storts described the Greenfield location as a “win-win” for the council as a whole by being a source of larger, better quality donations that could be accessed by SVDP clients in all areas of Milwaukee.
Store manager Donna Rachac confirmed Storts’ predictions in a recent interview, saying donations to the Greenfield location have been “wonderful, especially for a slow time of year,” and that consumer response has been positive.
According to the 2013 Milwaukee SVDP Annual Report – the most recent data available – the Lincoln Avenue store distributes more than $65,500 worth of merchandise each year to individuals through the Neighbors Helping Neighbors voucher program, which allows SVDP clients to obtain needed items from the thrift store.
Rachac reported many SVDP voucher clients are already enjoying the new store’s wider selection of goods.
All processing of donations is now done in Greenfield, freeing up staff at Lincoln Avenue to spend more time on the sales floor, said Rachac. In addition, several volunteers from Lincoln Avenue were hired to be paid employees in Greenfield.
“The primary mission of St. Vincent de Paul stores is to really serve the needy and fulfill the gift certificate of Vincentians,” said Rachac. “We don’t want the gift certificate recipients to feel like second-class citizens. We want them to feel like customers.”
But the scope of the store extends even beyond that, she added: “Any value-oriented customers, people who are looking for value – we’re here to serve them.”
Though honoring the vouchers is the primary purpose of the thrift stores, the stores are also invaluable sources of income for the society. In 2013, retail sales accounted for 26 percent of the council’s total revenue, making it the second-largest earner after contributions.
SVDP hopes the success of the Greenfield location will lead to another store on Milwaukee’s north side, in the heart of the community the society serves.
“We’re committed to opening a store on the north side of Milwaukee and the planning process for this is in the early stages,” said Milwaukee SVDP executive director Deborah Duskey in an email, adding that the Greenfield store “will have a positive financial impact on our organization, increase the number of families we are able to serve and sustain the work of St. Vincent de Paul in our community for many generations.”
Turning a profit to serve the poor
The Waterford St. Vincent de Paul store, located next to the Baymont Inn & Suites at 822 Forrest Lane, opened Nov. 4, 2014, a little less than a year after a fire destroyed its previous store in Racine.
However, Don Mueller, vice president of the Racine council, said plans for a new location on the western end of the county had been in place since 2011.
“For years, we were actually losing money at our Racine store,” he said, citing poor location, bad foot traffic and lack of selling space.
The facility that housed the Racine store has been refurbished and is now a food pantry and donation center. The two centers work together closely, said Ian Ronkoski, Waterford store manager.
“If they have something we need, they send it over here, and vice versa,” he said. “It just expands the community even more.”
The Racine council purchased the land on Forrest Lane in 2012 and began construction that fall, but a series of complications – including supply problems, red tape and last year’s difficult winter weather – delayed opening for two years.
“It took about three years to realize and we had a lot of setbacks in the process, but the store is off to a great start. Three months have basically tripled the sales that we had in Racine,” said Mueller.
Like their Milwaukee counterparts, the Racine council also hopes revenue from its new store will support another store in the heart of the county’s neediest area. The Racine council, which has 75 active members from seven parishes, served more than 3,000 clients in home visits last year, with over 2,000 visitors to their food pantry.
“The secret to this store for St. Vincent de Paul is to not only have things available for the poor, which is the priority, but at the same time to turn a profit, so that we can serve the poor,” said Mueller.