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Homeward Bound thrift store in New London to close

New London — The New London Homeless Hospitality Center announced Thursday that it is closing Homeward Bound Treasures, the thrift store it runs at 35 Golden St. to support its mission.

"Despite outstanding work by all our staff at HBT, we have not been able to sell enough to cover the cost of operating the store," the center wrote on Facebook. "The store looks great, has well priced merchandise and great customer service but all these positives have not been enough to generate the sales volume we need to cover costs."

The center will be winding down operations over the coming weeks, and John Russell — who got the store up and running 11 years ago — is volunteering to help with the transition.

The two paid employees working at Homeward Bound, the manager and a part-time truck driver, will continue working for NLHCC, Executive Director Catherine Zall told The Day.

Expanding on the reasons for closing, Zall said "the thrift store business has been a tough one," though she's not sure exactly why. She added that there's a lot of overhead, with rent and utilities costing about $50,000 a year.

"It just didn't make sense for us organizationally to be losing money on the thrift store, as much as it helped a lot of people get access to furniture," Zall said. "It's just, that's not our mission. Our mission is to help people experiencing homelessness."

She said NLHCC tried different strategies over the last three years, but staff couldn't find the right formula to make it work. The store went through a reorganization in 2018, which involved purging old inventory, tightening up the quality of items, and repainting.

Homeward Bound opened when the Mystic Marriott was redoing the hotel and "had lots of pretty decent furniture they were replacing," Zall said. Russell and others decided to try to sell the furniture.

A 2009 article in The Day said Mystic Marriott donated more than 1,000 pieces of furniture to the Homeless Hospitality Center and other charities, such as the Front Porch Foundation and the Furniture Bank.

For the past three years, the store manager has been Nicole Thomas, who said she was informed of Homeward Bound's approaching closure a few weeks ago. As drivers of the closure, she pointed to online retailers such as Amazon and Wayfair, and how downtown New London "just started to look a little more empty."

She said that along with finding furniture and glassware, people could come to the store to get "oddball things you won't find at Walmart," and that Homeward Bound had a community atmosphere where visitors could come to see the people who were working.

Thomas says the store has about 10 consistent volunteers and a group of about eight people who come once a week from The Light House, a nonprofit serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Thomas left the store on Feb. 8 and now is working in the finance office for the Homeless Hospitality Center.

The center said in its Facebook post that it will be deepening its partnership with Habitat for Humanity's ReStore by directing donors to the Waterford location, and by purchasing items at ReStore for apartments where the center houses guests.

e.moser@theday.com

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