Efforts to Establish New Goodwill Location Sparks Local Controversy

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Amid contention from local business owners, Goodwill Industries of the Greater East Bay is looking to establish a new location on Solano Avenue in Berkeley, though a definitive plan to open may rest on the non-profit's ability to navigate the city's permit process.

Among other potential locations in the East Bay, Goodwill's retail team is exploring two vacant spaces that comprise an 1831 Solano Ave. address. But whether or not the city will see a new store depends on many factors, including the potential consequences of the non-profit choosing to tear down the dividing walls between the two spaces.

Allen Cain, executive director and events manager of Solano Avenue Association, said a Goodwill representative looked at a 5,000 square foot property previously occupied by World of Dance studio, an L-shaped lot that has been vacant for nearly six years.

Goodwill applied for an operating permit for this location around six months ago, and it was approved by the city on the condition that the non-profit establishes its donation station inside the store and only accepts donations during its operating hours.

After Front Row Video closed at the end of 2010 and vacated the property that filled out the L-shaped lot, Goodwill made a proposal to break down the dividing wall and combine the spaces into a single square area. Since the storefront of the World of Dance property is only about 10 feet wide, the combination of the two spaces would significantly expand the location's visibility, Cain said.

Should Goodwill choose to combine the two spaces, it would be "triggering a permit process that most would find unappealing," Cain said. Before such a project could be approved, the city would have to provide ample opportunity for public discussion.

To bypass the permit process but still occupy both spaces, Goodwill could preserve the dividing walls and operate out of both locations with two separate addresses, according to Cain.

Cain said one of the points of contention among business owners with Goodwill's possible opening is there are six clothing stores - two of which sell used clothing for children - within one block of the proposed location.

Although Cain said the litmus shows the majority of businesses currently on Solano would not be in favor of Goodwill moving to the avenue, Kimberly Scrafano, vice president of development and community affairs for Goodwill Industries of the Greater East Bay, said people who oppose the potential opening may not be familiar with the non-profit's mission and purpose - to serve as a training place for people who "might be coming off of welfare, coming out of prison, and they've never worked before," she said.

Some business owners voiced their concerns that Goodwill may attract a different consumer base than the commercial strip is accustomed to.

"I don't think Goodwill will promote more business, per se," said Christine Mewha, owner of Sotto Voce, a women's clothing store in the adjacent building. "A lot of homeless people come through - they go through (the donations), and that's why there's debris left all over the street."

However, some local business owners, such as Hannah Hernandez of Hannah's Children's Resale - a children's used clothing store a couple of buildings down from the proposed Goodwill location - said Goodwill may bring direct and timely benefits to the economically unstable commercial area.

"I am kind of supportive of anything that gets rid of all of our vacant space," she said. "I sell used clothes, but I think I provide a different service than Goodwill does - I welcome them."

Typically, when a new Goodwill location opens, between eight and 13 job positions become available in the community, according to Scrafano.

Cain said members of the Solano Avenue Association will be polled this week about whether or not they are in favor of Goodwill's potential move-in. The majority decision will be released by the end of February or the middle of March, according to Cain.

Neetu Puranikmath of The Daily Californian contributed to this report.

Tags: SOLANO AVENUE, SOLANO AVENUE ASSOCIATION, GOODWILL INDUSTRIES OF THE GREATER EAST BAY


Jessica Gillotte is the lead business reporter. Contact her at [email protected] [email protected]



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